This year’s European Championships have taken a rather predictable route so far. England made the quarter-finals but were knocked out by another major nation – on penalties. Holland looked good going forward but poor at the back amid talk of dressing room unrest. Spain and Germany, the two pre-tournament favourites, both progressed to the semi-finals with the minimum of fuss.
If it continues to form, Spain should go on to lift the trophy having made the final on Wednesday night, but is that what we want?
England unashamedly English
Unlike many, I was delighted when Roy Hodgson was named as England manager. His predecessors had unrealistic ideas of how the England team can play but I always felt Hodgson would evaluate our strengths and weaknesses better than anyone else.
Even with the so-called golden generation in the side, England’s greatest strength was always in defence, while keeping the ball has always been a weakness against the top sides.
One suspects Harry Redknapp would have sent the team out rather more gung-ho and, who knows, it may just have worked. But, to me, it made more sense to play a system that first and foremost made us difficult to break down.
The Sweden game aside, Hodgson’s formation worked to that end and, although we could certainly have kept the ball better, we were never going to create chances through intricate build-up play. Instead we looked to get the ball to the wide players and cause problems with crosses and set pieces.
It’s one of the most basic ways of playing and, with two deep-lying midfielders and a winger that isn’t a winger, I’m not going to pretend it’s the most exciting, either. However, we were unbeaten in our four games and I firmly believe Hodgson’s approach would have given us the best possible chance against Germany in the semi-finals had it not been for our age-old problem of penalty kick taking.
We will never know of course, but don’t kid yourself into believing England would have fared any better with a more attacking approach or that we have the players that could have kept the ball like Spain or Germany in a different system.
Our strengths and weaknesses are undeniable and Hodgson did the best possible job he could have with the tools at his disposal. Let’s just hope he has some better tools by the time the 2014 World Cup comes around!
Spain brilliantly ‘boring’
There are two main factions regarding Spain at the moment. There are those that say they are boring and unworthy of the praise heaped on them, and there are those that say it is laughable to label a side of such talent as boring.
Well, I suppose it comes down to your definition of boring. I have previously stated that I don’t like watching Barcelona because they dominate possession so much that genuine goal-mouth excitement is reduced to a minimum. I also dislike their off-the-ball antics, but that’s another story.
Spain, like Barca, monopolise possession but, unlike the Catalans, they do not have Lionel Messi to translate that domination into goals. In fact, without David Villa, Vincent del Bosque has chosen to play without a recognised striker at all in some of their games.
Their place in the final justifies the approach but, the Republic of Ireland game aside, Spain have scored just four goals in four games. Even with Villa, they scored only one goal in each of their four knockout games at the 2010 World Cup.
I would never go as far as to call them boring as I find it fascinating to watch their keep ball in midfield, but it can be frustrating watching the best team in the world not going for the jugular a bit more. It isn’t as though they are lacking a striker to replace Villa either with Ferndando Torres, Alvaro Negredo and Fernando Llorente all in the squad.
What Spain (and Barcelona) do is immensely difficult and hugely successful, and it’s very difficult to criticise them for an approach that has led them to three successive major tournament finals.
However, they will certainly not be remembered as the great entertainers of the world and, given the tools at their disposal, what a shame that is.
Germany find the balance
If you happen to watch any German football you will know that the Bundesliga is now a worthy rival to the Premier League as Europe’s most entertaining league.
Back-to-back title winners Borussia Dortmund are, in my opinion, much more enjoyable to watch than Barcelona, and Germany are now, unbelievably, the great entertainers of international football.
They retain their stereotypical efficiency and ruthlessness which saw them top Group B, the group of death, with successive wins over Portugal, the Netherlands and Denmark, but they boast a hugely exciting young team that is a joy to watch.
They scored double the amount of goals of Spain at the last World Cup and have already scored more than Del Bosque’s men at the Euros ahead of Thursday night’s semi-final against Italy.
Spain have proven me wrong. I thought they had declined slightly since the last World Cup and, without Villa, I honestly thought they would struggle at this tournament. Yet they are actually as strong as ever and will be favourites for the final regardless of who they are facing.
However, while the German team may not be quite as talented as Spain’s, they have already provided far more entertainment. They are not a perfect machine but every pass they make is with the intention of getting closer to the goal rather than simply wearing out the opposition.
They do not simply close out a game after going a goal up, they look to score more to put it beyond doubt. Yes, it leaves gaps and yes, Spain may well capitalise on that if the two meet in the final. But the Germans are a great team that are great to watch and I for one would love to see them lift the Henri Delaunay Trophy on Sunday.
Let me know your thoughts on England, Spain, Germany and Euro 2012 as a whole below. And feel free to follow me on Twitter.