Euro 2012: Spain Shows How Passing the Ball Is Overrated

Russell HughesContributor IIIJune 28, 2012

DONETSK, UKRAINE - JUNE 27: Andres Iniesta of Spain in action during the UEFA EURO 2012 semi final match between Portugal and Spain at Donbass Arena on June 27, 2012 in Donetsk, Ukraine.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
Martin Rose/Getty Images

Statistics can be a wonderful thing. They can be studied and scrutinised in the smallest detail, used to provide answers and presented as facts. If you look at Spain’s statistics during the EURO 2012 campaign so far, you would think that they have been the best team in the tournament in some way, a team that have swatted aside any team that dares to inhabit the same pitch as them. But as George Canning, who is the shortest serving Prime Minister in history, once said: “I can prove anything by statistics except the truth.” This applies brilliantly to Vicente del Bosque’s team.

For the truth is, Spain have been anything but inspiring and brilliant. Sure, they have completed 3386 passes, at a competition rate of 80 percent, scored eight goals (only one behind the Germans), had 49 attempts on target and had 40 corners, but they haven’t managed to set pulses racing. Their semi-final against Portugal was one of the most boring football matches in the tournament so far. There was only one attempt on target during the 120 minutes, despite Spain’s 57 percent possession, seven corners and a pass completion of 75 percent out of the 758 passes made. And it didn’t make a blind bit of difference.

Del Bosque's experiment of playing without a proper striker is failing. Spain may be making a lot of passes, and it may all look good on the stat sheet, but that’s not enough. Too many of the passes are going sideways or back, which is because they don’t have a player prepared to run off the shoulder of the last defender like a striker does. Creativity is great in midfield, but if there isn’t anyone of the pitch in the position to capitalise on then the goals won’t come. And without goals, you can’t win competitions. Ah, you might say, Spain has the second highest amount of goals scored in the competition so far. That’s true, but if you take away the four goals scored against a poor Ireland team, that leaves them with four goals from four games, a poor return from such dominant stats.

On the other hand, the team with the most goals scored, Germany, have had an average of 57 percent ball possession, 2052 completed passes with a completion rate of 77 percent and are fourth in the attempts on target ranking, with 33. They also boast a leading goal scorer, Gomez, and a leading assister, Ozil. Germany and Spain have very little to separate them, both have gifted midfielders who are capable of picking the lock to the most resilient defence, and both have strikers who know where the back of the net is. The difference is that one coach chooses to play his strikers, while the other doesn’t. A second difference between the sides is that Germany have played their wide men, players who are prepared to run at the opposition full backs and make life difficult for them, while Spain haven’t started players like Pedro or Navas, only thrown them on when the original plan isn’t working.

Maybe del Bosque has become obsessed with the stats, so much so that he can’t see the truth that is hiding behind them.