Soccer is a game of patience and teamwork. Well-organized teams can be successful, occasionally very much so—witness Greece four years ago or, to use a North American example, Canada at the 2000 Gold Cup.
But, those examples are the exception. You see, soccer also is a game of flair—the ultimate team game broken open by a flash of individual brilliance.
Witness yesterday at Euro 2008 the holders, Greece, were soldiering on playing the same sort of dull but effective game that lead them to glory in Portugal. Even with the crowd’s whistles reigning down on them, the Greeks stuck to their game plan.
Slow but sure. Wait for an opening.
But, on this day, it wasn’t to be.
Just as the neutral fan was beginning to fear that the tournament’s second scoreless draw was forthcoming, Zlatan Ibrahimovic produced the type of magic that makes this game so wonderful.
Out of nowhere the Swedish star, snake bitten internationally for almost three years previous, pounced on half an opportunity to rip a 25-yard strike to rip the game open and smash the Greek’s will.
There was plenty of game left, but Greece understood: There was no way back, not this time. Not this team.
Suddenly Greece isn’t an intriguing defending champion but simply another underdog hoping to nip one off the counter.
The Greek fan will always have 2004, but he or she had best hold onto those sweet memories because it does not appear that there will be any magic this time around—not unless the Greeks can find some passion to go along with their discipline.
It doesn’t seem likely.
Passion is not in short supply with Spain, who thrilled fans and neutrals alike with a brilliant effort earlier in the day. Passion is what the Spaniards are all about.
Yesterday’s 4-1 win over capable Russia illustrated that perfectly. Of course, the tournament is young, and Spain has a history of breaking your heart, so it’s best not to get too smitten just yet.