Only Boring People Get Bored Of Spain

Some may argue that Spain are boring, but Matt Stanger thinks the final will be an enthralling spectacle. Italy have shown previously that they can hurt the current holders...

Last Updated: 29/06/12 at 10:13 Post Comment

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Not only must Spain manage the weight of history as they seek to become the first team to win three major tournaments in succession, but suddenly there is the additional caveat to entertain. Otherwise, it appears their legacy will be tarnished with accusations of boredom.

The TV generation have spoken. They want their R'n'B videos packed with booty and their football champions to be free-scoring. Nothing less than an indefatigable destruction of Italy will suffice on Sunday.

Of course, Spain also have their supporters, more commonly known as 'purists', and for them victory apparently extends to the triumph of good over evil. Or at least that's what we've been led to believe.

It bodes for an uncomfortable final, with the current holders certain to charm in spells, but there's a residual nagging doubt that if they don't win in a thrilling manner their detractors will forever voice dissent.

The problem, ultimately, is that Spain don't score enough goals to keep everyone interested. In this internet age of being fed bite-size morsels of information - and hence craving only essential details - scorelines are becoming, to an extent, the principal marker by which to determine success. If a match finishes 0-0, it must have been dull, whereas it's impossible to be ungrateful for a 4-4 draw (unless it costs you the championship).

And for Spain - a team who have won nine of their last 18 tournament matches since the start of Euro 2008 by just a single goal, with a further two victories coming in penalty shoot-outs - their preference for control over the killer blow has left much of the viewing public unsatisfied.

On the face of it, this seems a bit rich. Spain are possibly the greatest national team in history and in many regards we're fortunate to witness their era of dominance. They have developed an all-conquering style that has thus far failed to yield to opposition invention or coercion. The focus on possession has revolutionised the way football is discerned and, at the moment, it appears the bar will only crumble through the passing of time rather than be beaten by another idea.

However, repetition is, by nature, monotonous. And Spain's reliance on four key players - Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets - to keep matches at arm's length only serves to exaggerate the tedium. It often feels as though we're watching four-a-side within 11-a-side, and that isn't how we identify the excitement of football. A ten-man goalmouth scramble raises adrenalin levels instantaneously; 22 consecutive passes have their own caressing fascination.

The main issue at Euro 2012 that has accelerated the debate over their appeal is Vicente del Bosque's reluctance to play with a natural striker. The loss of David Villa - top scorer at the last two tournaments - is the single most influential factor in the coach's decision-making, with Fernando Torres, Alvaro Negredo and Fernando Llorente - whose poor end to the season proved fatal to his chances of leading the line - failing to offer a convincing alternative.

This has led to the comic suggestion that Spain are now a self-parodic art project, with all the romantic brushstrokes of Goya and a perceived didactic arrogance. However, as much as the style can be criticised, it's impossible to reject its effectiveness. They might bore you, but it must be acknowledged that, at present, Spain are the best in the world and will continue to be so, regardless of the result on Sunday.

To extend the art metaphor (please forgive me), the current discussion recalls the story of the Dadaist piece 'Object To Be Destroyed' created by Man Ray in the 1920s. The object in question was a metronome (with the image of a woman's eye attached to the needle).

In 1957, Object To Be Destroyed was being exhibited at an art show in Paris when a group of students took the title to be an invitation. The piece was stolen, set down in the street not far from the gallery, and destroyed with a single gunshot.

Man Ray used the subsequent insurance pay-out to create 100 multiples, which he entitled 'Indestructible Object'. It mattered not that the physical nature of the piece could be attacked, the concept remained unbreakable. And, as in the case of Spain, it had to be accepted that its existence was essentially its success. Picasso said art is a lie that makes us realise the truth - Spain's truth is that they have been, and still are, a wonderful football machine.

Man Ray made significant adaptations to his work over time (the image of the woman's eye on the original piece was changed to that of his ex-lover nine years later) and Euro 2012 has seen Del Bosque tinker with the components of his Spanish side.

Not once did the team play without a striker in the warm-up matches, but following the first game of the tournament on June 10, against Italy, this has been the most potent approach.

Indeed, considering Torres' blunt performance against Croatia and Negredo's advocacy of a striker-less tactic in the semi-final, we are likely to see Spain line-up with Cesc Fabregas in a 'false 9' role again on Sunday.

The abiding aim is to score first and then play out the tie safe in the knowledge that the opposition cannot score without the ball. Spain will always add to a single goal if possible, and Italy must be careful not to be lured into the catastrophic error of an impetuous attack.

At first it might seem frustrating that Italy and Spain are not footballing antitheses, and the idea of a style clash between Del Bosque's side and Germany was rather appealing. However, the elements of similarity between the two finalists can be considered an attractive feature.

Rather than a lifeless contest, with Spain acting as the protagonists against a dogged adversary (which is when games often become boring), Italy possess players who can hurt the reigning champions in a way that is just as easy on the eye.

They know how to exploit Spain's biggest weakness - the high line that correlates with possession football - and on two occasions in the first fixture, Italy carved through the Spanish defence to create one-on-one opportunities; the first fluffed by Mario Balotelli and the second superbly converted by Antonio Di Natale.

And as Italy demonstrated to devastating effect in the win over Germany - and in the early stages of the quarter-final against England - Andrea Pirlo and Riccardo Montolivo will look for early long balls to release Balotelli from his standing position on the shoulder of the last defender.

The striker may have been wasteful on occasion during the tournament, but he possesses the game intelligence to escape his marker and of course can finish with punishing conviction.

This encourages the hope that the final will not merely be an exhibition of tiki-taka for tiki-taka's sake. Spain will need to make the most of their goal-scoring opportunities, or face the consequences of being caught out in a fatal flash.

It might be argued that Spain are predictable in the way they play, but the final could be pleasantly surprising to those who complain of boredom. It takes two teams to provide an enthralling spectacle and none are more equipped than the two finalists to exhibit artistry with impact.

Matt Stanger - chat to him on the Twitter.

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