Jun 29, 2008

The better team won

The best team in Europe won the European championship. But before we defend this (hardly controversial) claim, a discussion of the pregame ceremony is in order:

First, that techno-waltz thing. Okay, I get it: Austria is the home of Mozart and other famous musicians like Falco, and Vienna was where they were playing the game. But as creative and clever as it may have been, I don't think U.S. audiences, many of whom still cling to the belief that soccer is a sissy sport (or worse), along with other myths, were able to appreciate the full effect. Just a hunch.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the worst of it. Not even close, in fact. We were next treated to Enrique Iglesias (badly) lip-synching the tournament's techno-anthem while his "band" play-synched their instruments. This complete waste of time, space, technology and hot chicks (the backup singers) was nothing short of an insult on all the senses. I would not be surprised if many Americans used this freak show as an excuse to change the channel, perhaps to the NASCAR race that was taking place at the same time. To many, this was likely their first (and last) exposure to professional soccer.

A shame, because they missed a game that while admittedly not as good as some of the others played in the tournament, was an impressive display of solid technical soccer (quite unlike the MLS game that preceded it. Which is okay, MLS doesn't claim to be anywhere near this level. Or at least I hope they don't. Seriously though: with David Beckham honing his rapidly-declining skills over here, and still holding down a starting spot for England, can there be any surprise they didn't qualify for the tournament?).

Yes, Philip Lahm probably should have done better holding off Fernando Torres, even if he was three heads shorter and even though the Spaniard showed himself adept at muscling his way past the little German (I wonder if that move was something he picked up in England? Maybe the English game--or certain parts of it at least--still has its place after all). And Germany was pretty disappointing in this game. They seemed more interested in b*tching at the referee than playing their game (further evidence that globalization has infiltrated the sport; Spaniards playing physical, Germans acting like Southern European crybabies. What's next: Italy playing attacking soccer? Nah, even globalization has its limits).

There can be no doubt, though, that pound for pound Spain was the best team in this tournament. Their squad really does not appear to have any weaknesses; Ilker Casillas is probably the best goalkeeper in the world not named Buffon, Torres and Villa are world class strikers, Fabregas and Xavi Hernandez brilliant creative midfielders. Iniesta and David Silva terrific all-rounders who combine to make the Spanish midfield one of the very best ever. Carlos Puyol a rock in central defense. Who needed Raul? Luis Aragones undoubtedly made the right call leaving him off the squad. And these guys are still young. Obviously, Spain are looking like the early favorites for the 2010 world cup.

As for Germany, I am not actually convinced after today that they were the second-best team in this tournament. Playing above their potential is a typically-German trait in the recent history of international soccer (see 1982, 1986, 1996, 2002 and 2006) so it isn't a big surprise it happened again. Would Germany have beaten Holland or Italy or Croatia or Russia? We'll never know (actually we do know about Croatia, who beat them in group play). Anyway, this was a fun tournament. The soccer, that is. The staging and transmission issues are another matter entirely.

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