With Euro 2008 about to reach its knock out stage, the business end of the tournament, the most pleasing aspect of the two weeks of matches thus far has been the progress of Holland and Spain. Their performance has been a triumph for football, as much as Euro 2006 was a dark period in recent international competitions.
While the title can never be taken away from Greece, they won it ahead of much better teams and should rightly be pleased with that moment of history, it was still a blight of a tournament that bored rather than entertained. At that stage, at the end of a long season, the Greeks managed to bore the world better than the rest of the field. Blame it on whatever you like, tired legs, the fact that the Greeks were mile fresher then any other team, luck, good for the Greeks, bad for everyone else, history will still tell you that in 2006 Greece won the European Championships. And that’s all it will say. There will be no side not about the way they played, or rather the way they didn’t. So it has always been. This would have been the excuse needed by all in sundry to put out the same stall as the Greeks, and make sure that results are all that matter. 2006 was a tournament that saw teams put out predominately 4-5-1 formations and look to wear the opponents down, get a goal, put everyone behind the ball, and hold out for the win, creating little and using very little imagination or artistry. The Greeks weren’t the only ones to do this, they just managed to do it well at this time. This was the way football was headed, with results become of far more importance than entertainment. Today in England Arsenal and Manchester United are commended for their attacking, flowing, entertaining play. Yet only United have married this with winning. Arsenal must be given credit for continuing with this philosophy despite the lack of trophies. They will continue with it for as long as Wenger is in charge and so lets hope that that is for a long time to come. They could easily adopt the style, or lack of it, of Chelsea and Liverpool, the other two forces of the “Big Four” in England. Liverpool play with one up front, pack the midfield, and launch balls up to the terrific pace of Torres. Chelsea say they play a 4-3-3 and on paper it is exactly that. But on the field, where it matters, they play a 4-5-1. They have been successful with it and so have persisted with it. Abramovich wants fantasy football, like United, Arsenal and Barcelona play, but both Mourinho and Grant brought dull but effective football to the Bridge, winning was more important than putting on a show. Abramovich will be hoping Scolari shares his vision but must be aware that there is a lot of pressure on a manager who spends 100 million a season, pressure to make sure he wins, and this will become more important than how he wins. Will he be happy with a season where his team play the best football in the world, as Arsenal have at times, yet finish with nothing? I doubt that.
And so we come back to Euro 08. Spain and Holland have played football the way it should be played and, with Spain to complete their group matches tonight, have both topped their groups and thus far have both got 100% records. Holland have counter attacked with a true 4-3-3 formation, not Chelsea’s false one, with pace and drive down the flanks, and Ruud in the middle. Spain have done what so many in international and club football have forgotten to do – play with two up front. With Villa and Torres up front you always know that if you create chances they will be put away – and so they have been.
International football was headed into the dark ages but has been rescued by Holland and Spain this year. It would only be right if one of these two teams were to take home the trophy in 10 days time and show the world you don’t have to be dull to win. Football is about passion and entertainment. Let them entertain.