Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Spain may never pass this way again

  • Print

Here ends European soccer's summer festival. And what a time it was. Bookended between Robert Lewandowski's 17th-minute header against Greece and Juan Mata's goal against Italy that rubbed salt into the sort of wound only defeat in a major final can cause was some of the best soccer you're likely to see.

And see it we did. Record numbers of Canadians tuned in to the mid-day Euro 2012 broadcasts, many of whom were either skipping work or watching at their desks. Countless more plugged their ears so as not to hear the scores until the matches replayed in prime time.

We watched because what we saw was fascinating. Over three weeks 16 teams contested 31 matches -- all of them competitive, all of them meaningful. The group stage came down to the last day; until the final there wasn't a trace of a blowout.

Not that 4-0 did justice to Sunday's match between Spain and Italy. The Italians -- one of the tournament's pleasant stories and supplier of numerous, positive talking points -- actually acquitted themselves well in the first half despite a 2-0 deficit. In the end it was a pair of injuries that forced unwanted substitutions and eventually left the Azzurri a man down that turned the tide in Spain's favour.

A decidedly red tide. Ahead by a pair of goals when Thiago Motta had to come off with a thigh injury just prior to the hour-mark, the reigning world and European champions turned the screw with two more goals before the final whistle. The 10 Italians on the field were well and truly knackered by then. Bonucci and Balzaretti were visibly cramping up.

Bad luck was something Italy was never going to be able to afford in this final, not with Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta dominating the midfield as they so often have as a tandem, both for Spain and club side Barcelona.

Neither player needs more than a second on the ball before spotting the other, or a teammate. Spain's ticki-tacka style, both loved for its effectiveness and despised for being so dispassionate, would be impossible without the two, and with Xavi at 32-years of age it's unlikely Spain will ever play quite the same brand of soccer at a major tournament.

The tournament, too, is headed for a change. The 2012 instalment was the last European Championship to be limited to 16 teams. It will grow by eight ahead of Euro 2016 in France, including nearly half the UEFA membership. The quality of play, so high the past three weeks, will no doubt be diluted, and by 2020 the idea of "host nations" may be scrapped entirely.

Hopefully you enjoyed Euro 2012, and if you did, savour it. If you enjoyed watching Spain, savour that, too. Neither are likely to ever be the same.

jerradpeters@gmail.com Twitter @peterssoccer

Free Press team of the tournament

Goalkeeper: Iker Casillas, Spain

Right-back: Mathieu Debuchy, France

Centre-back: Leonardo Bonucci, Italy

Centre-back: Sergio Ramos, Spain

Left-back: Jordi Alba, Spain

Central midfielder: Xavi, Spain

Central midfielder: Andrea Pirlo, Italy

Right attacker: Petr Jiracek, Czech Republic

Central attacker: Andres Iniesta, Spain

Left attacker: Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal

Centre-forward: Mario Balotelli, Italy

Subs: Mesut Ozil (Germany), Xabi Alonso (Spain), Joao Moutinho (Spain)

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 2, 2012 C4

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.