03 July 2012

"No hay dos sin tres" - Spain's footballers do it again!

There can't be many people on the planet unaware that Spain has just become the first country ever to win three consecutive European and World Cup titles - hence the catch-phrase for this year's Eurocopa "No hay dos sin tres" (there are not two but three, the equivalent of the English saying that things always come in threes, or "it never rains but it pours").

There's even a song with that title, performed by Spanish pop star David Bisbal with the Colombian duo Cali & El Dandee, which has been played endlessly on TV and radio since the tournament started back at the beginning of June, helping Spain to raise her spirits and put her economic woes to one side for a few weeks.

Although la selección española were the bookies' favourites from the start, there were plenty of begrudgers complaining that the team had lost its edge, that it would never get past the ever-improving German side (in the event, it didn't face that test as Germany was knocked out by Italy), and even a few deluded souls suggesting that England were in with a chance under their new manager Roy Hodgson.

During the tournament there were some tense moments for fans of la Furia Roja (the Red Fury, as the team is known here, or simply la Roja).  The only time it looked really confident and convincing in the qualifying stages was against Ireland (4-0), and to be frank, even England would have looked confident and convincing against them.  It barely scraped through a hard-fought tussle with Croacia, spared by a last-minute goal by Jesús Navas (Jesus Saves!!) and the skills of the world's finest goalkeeper Iker Casillas.  Spain couldn't score at all in the semi-final against Portugal, a spiteful game full of unchecked fouls and cynical diving, finally settled by a penalty-shoot-out in which Portugal's star player Cristiano Ronaldo foolishly put himself on at number 5 and didn't actually get a chance to put the ball past his Real Madrid team-mate.

Poor Cristiano - seven missed shots and no penalty kick
Spain's style of play doesn't appeal to everyone. "Spain are control freaks who hold on to the ball and keep opponents from scoring by wearing them down", complained Rob Smyth in The Guardian.  "Everyone accepts they have achieved an unprecedented level of technical excellence. It's just that some people like salt in their paella."  Manager Vicente del Bosque was criticised for fielding a side without a recognised striker much of the time, relying on midfielders to come forward or defend as required and using Fabregas as a "False 9".  Even Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger had a go at them before the final, questioning if Spain were "betraying their philosophy" by being over-cautious with their ball control, and had lost their sparkle.

Spain's unflappable manager Vicente del Bosque,
in the closest he gets to a smile
But their 4-0 victory in the final against Italy on Sunday must surely have made the critics eat their words.  Everything came together on the night, and all the players were at their sparkling best.  The Italians fought hard but were hindered by injuries (they ran out of substitutes and had to finish the match with ten men).  In the end they were worn down by teamwork, tiki-taka and the sheer brilliance of midfielders like Player of the Tournament Andrés Iniesta.

Iniesta escapes the shirt-tugging and confuses
the Italians by going in the opposite direction
Now la Roja is being hailed as the best side in history.  Millions lined the streets of Madrid to welcome them home yesterday.  In Alcalá a few red-and-yellow flags are still flying and the smiles on people's faces will last  much longer than Monday's hangovers.

It's not over yet of course.   Three of the team will be in Spain's Olympic squad next month, and the whole country is looking forward to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.  No hay dos sin cuatro?

Welcoming back the heroes

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