Euro 2012: Is Spain an Indomitable Force, or Can They Be Stopped?
Spain booked their place in the semis with a comfortable victory over France, completely dominating the midfield and creating a plethora of chances.
France, on the other hand, looked disjointed, failed to operate as a team and struggled immensely in keeping possession or creating viable chances.
Not once was Iker Casillas bothered to a significant degree.
Of course, their style of play might be labelled as boring, but they grind out the results by any means necessary. Statistically, they have scored eight goals, while conceding only one thus far in the tournament, maintaining a 68-percent possession with a 90-percent passing success.
And they have the players to do it. While they do not possess in their ranks a certain Lionel Messi, they remain devastating nonetheless.
Spain’s core consists of players who have gelled together over the course of several years, having played alongside each other in Barcelona. And with certain additions from other teams, they are a terrifying prospect.
Iker Casillas is miles ahead of Victor Valdes in terms of goalkeeping skills, and he can be depended upon even when the defensive line falters.
And unlike in Barcelona, the defence is robustly organized in Spain.
Both full-backs, Jordi Alba and Alvaro Arbeloa, are at their prime. They press forward, maintain possession and contribute in defence by making strong tackles and crucial interceptions.
Against France, it was Jordi Alba’s delicious ball to Xabi Alonso that opened up the scoring. Alba beat the French defenders, raised his head to see exactly where there was unmarked territory and crossed in perfectly.
And in central positions, they have Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique, the former an absolutely world-class complete defender, and the latter a player who can pass the ball around and initiate the play from the back.
As you move onto the midfield, things get extra scary.
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This is a team where players like Juan Mata don’t make the cut and pass-masters like Cesc Fabregas have to operate as a false No. 9.
With the likes of Andres Iniesta and David Silva both operating in a similar fashion—navigating and dribbling in tight spaces and laying off passes toward the center, and Xavi, Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets operating alongside them, you have the most perfect midfield imaginable.
Xabi Alonso is Spain’s very own Bastian Schweinsteiger and has the ability to break the deadlock when required.
He can play long balls, is exceptional in tackling and moving the ball around quickly and can shoot with accuracy. Teams seeking to park the bus cannot do so when Alonso operates among the ranks.
The availability of a target man, either in the form of Fernando Torres or Fernando Llorente, also offers Spain the option of playing long balls or whipping in crosses against teams which might decide to park the bus. Failure to adapt to these tactics is what cost Barcelona the game against Chelsea.
But can Spain be stopped in a similar way? The answer is a resounding no.
Is there anyone who can stop them?
Italy showed us how Spain might be hurt, but they too failed to beat them.
In my opinion, there does exist one team that might be able to challenge the hegemony of Spain, and that is Germany. There is very little to differentiate the two teams, but in terms of versatility afforded by German players, Die Mannschaft might just have the edge.
Speculations raised about the German defence prior to the start of the tournament have been answered fully. While the right-back position might be exploited a bit, the German defence is very strong.
Mats Hummels has really shone, and he is in strong contention for the tournament's best players. He has hardly placed a foot wrong and has shown why he was picked ahead of veteran Per Mertesacker.
Like Spain, Germany’s midfield is also a perfect combination of a variety of players, each one a master at his position.
There is not much to differentiate the two midfields. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira, Mesut Özil, Thomas Müller, Lukas Podolski along with sensations like Toni Kross, Mario Götze, Marco Reus, Andre Schürrle and Lars Bender are more than capable of holding their own. In fact, in my opinion, they afford more versatility than the Spanish players afford.
The midfields operate differently but are equally effective.
But, again, this is subjective.
In the past two games, Schweinsteiger has sat a bit deeper and allowed Khedira to roam a bit freely. This tactic has worked with perfection. With chances to show off a bit of technical flair, Khedira has grown in confidence. In two games, he has taken six shots in total and has grabbed one goal.
Operating up front is Mario Gomez.
Just as Torres sealed the deal for Spain four years ago, it might be Mario Gomez who takes Germany through. A constant supply of long and through balls to “Super” Mario will certainly leave Spain a bit back-footed.
At this point, it is difficult to choose between the two sides. The same group of players that were defeated by Spain last World Cup have grown in stature and confidence, and more importantly have learned to operate as a team and play to their advantage rather than trying to adapt.
Certainly, Germany vs. Spain would be a dream final for many. And while it might be a bit premature to even imagine that these two powerhouses will meet, speculations can always be carried out.
Who do you think would have the advantage should these two teams meet?
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