Reuters Soccer Blog
World Soccer views and news
THE OPTIMIST (Elena Moya)
Spain’s chances of beating Italy and reaching the Euro 2008 semi-finals are better than ever.
‘This time is different’ is the line that is repeated tournament after tournament, just before the team inevitably falls in the quarter-finals. But on this occasion it really is different, and here’s why.
1) Spain’s inferiority complex - based on four centuries of Inquisition, a fallen empire and a dictatorship that only finished thirty years ago - is evaporating. A winning mentality has been fostered by players like Fernando Torres and Cesc Fabregas.
2) They have traditionally been unlucky in tournaments, losing in penalty shootouts a few times including in England in 1996 against the hosts. This time, late match-winning goals by David Villa and Daniel Guiza have shown Spain can also be lucky.
3) Being lucky has given Spanish players confidence that last-minute turnarounds can actually happen in their favour. Spain’s tragic history – in football and in politics – is not inevitable. That’s what the players are now beginning to believe.
When Spain’s coach Luis Aragones decided to leave Real Madrid striker Raul out of his squad for Euro 2008 some thought he would live to regret his decision.
However, Valencia striker David Villa has stolen the headlines at the tournament after a cooly taken hat-trick in Spain’s opening 4-1 victory over Group D rivals Russia and an excellent stoppage-time goal in Saturday’s 2-1 win over Sweden.
When the Spain squad for Euro 2008 was announced all the talk in the Madrid media was about the absence of “El siete de España” — Raul. Luis Aragones, they said, would regret leaving out the former national team captain and all-time top scorer.
But David Villa has made light of the supposed burden of inheriting the number seven shirt and laid the debate to rest in the space of four days with his hat-trick against Russia and superb stoppage time winner against Sweden.
Total football is everywhere these days, in newspaper headlines and pub conversations. A few exciting performances from attack-minded teams at Euro 2008 and we’re back in the 1970s. Endless guitar solos, long greasy hair and flying Dutchmen.
On one side, you have the likes of Portugal, the Dutch or Spain, a bunch of daring young artists delighting football romantics with their wizardry. On the other side are the usual suspects, Italy and France, ageing cynics boring everybody with their cast-iron back fours and tireless holding midfielders.
The Bundesliga gets a bad rap at times. German clubs have for the most part failed to reach the latter stages of the Champions League in recent years, matches can sometimes seem to move in slow-motion and the officiating can be uneven or even downright scandalous (see Hoyzer, Robert).
But despite all that, Bundesliga players have been sparkling in Euro 2008. And with players from the German league on 15 of the 16 teams no league is more widely represented.
There have been players from the German domestic league in the starting line-ups of almost all the teams that have played of the tournament. Only Spain have no Bundesliga players in their squad.
I’m a bit worried about Spain. I’m not talking about the credit crunch, rising unemployment and the end of the housing boom here, I’m talking about their chances at Euro 2008.
When the draw took place last year, the Spanish press were celebrating that la selección had avoided the European big guns, but as the tournament has drawn near it has dawned on many that making the last 16 may not be such an easy task.
Click on the video above to see just a few of our correspondents here in Austria and Switzerland giving their views on what to expect at Euro 2008.
At the end of the video we give our predictions on who’s going to win and we’d like you to follow suit. Feel free to upload your own video views somewhere (if you send us the link and we like what we see, we’ll showcase it here) or just let us know who you think is going to win in the comments below.
AC Milan midfielder Clarence Seedorf has pulled out of the provisional Dutch squad for Euro 2008 after falling out with coach Marco van Basten.
That got me thinking about other top players who won’t be in Austria and Switzerland in June. Mark van Bommel said a while back he wouldn’t play for Holland under Van Basten but Ruud van Nistelrooy is back after patching things up with the coach.
Typically Sunday’s 1-0 win over Deportivo Coruna came with the usual dose of nail-biting, wincing and stomach churning that have made the Calderon such a stressful place to be in recent seasons.
After a second consecutive season without any silverware — and a humiliating 4-1 drubbing by arch-rivals by Real Madrid into the bargain – Barcelona have tried to stem the rising tide of criticism of the club by announcing that former club captain Pep Guardiola is to take charge of the team at the end of the season.
It’s quite a gamble.
Over the past two seasons, Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger, Marco van Basten, Juande Ramos and Ernesto Valverde have all been mentioned as possible replacements for Rijkaard, but the club have rejected the tried and tested contenders and gone for old boy Guardiola, whose coaching experience amounts to nothing more than a single season in charge of the club’s reserve team Barça B.