Monday, 2 July 2012

Passing to feet may work after all

And so Spain saved the best till last. The Euros ended with an engrossing match and some of the finest passing play ever seen. That tiki taka might be worth perservering with. After playing with what appeared to be a hangover during the group stage, La Roja finally got the bit between the teeth and upped the tempo. As we have seen many times at Arsenal (though not as often as we'd like), it's the gear change that makes all the difference.

The result was 4 exquisite variations on the same scoring move. In each case the goal was produced by a fast, accurate pass, along the floor and into feet in the penalty area, bisecting the Italian defence. Every pass originated in the central area, roughly where Pirlo was, which may not have been a deliberate attempt to rub noses in it, but did serve to emphasise the dominance of the Spanish team. Italy looked very tired by the end, and not just because they were down to 10 men.

The contrast with England is instructive. For all the antique beauty of Gerrard's diagonal cross and Carroll's header, the team's approach to goal was too predictable. The reliance on hard-working but uninspired wingers in Young and Milner, and the lack of a progressive passer playing nearer the opposition penalty area (Parker and Gerrard were too deep and Rooney out of form), meant that England rarely attacked with any menace. Walcott's burst into the box for Wellbeck's goal against Sweden was the closest they came to a Spanish-style move, specifically the Fabregas-Silva combo, but the difference in technique is telling: scampering, ball-bobbling and inspired improvisation versus a daisy-cutter, quick feet and a perfect meeting of man and ball.

My online predictions came a cropper as we entered the final bend, mainly because I ignored my own advice and backed an in-form Germany to over-turn history and beat Italy in the semis. This left me chasing the leaders for the final furlong (I was 10th) and obliged me to go for a major upset, so I plumped for a 1-0 victory for the Italians yesterday. I finished 15th out of 74, but came 2nd in the all-important Thursday Night Footy sub-league (the one whose password was dontletdavewin). I did well enough, but was unable to kick on. Sort of Portugalish.

Looking back, I also went astray in backing Russia to finally get it together in a major tournament (again, history warned me otherwise), and was guilty of sentimentality in assuming that Ireland might get a couple of draws (though history was on my side there). I did correctly predict that Ashley Young would miss a penalty, but there were no points in that due to a woeful oversight in the game design.

Thoughts now turn to the domestic season, though the back pages of the papers will presumably be dominated by tennis this week (I think that robotic-sounding Scotsman is still in it) and then by that over-inflated sports day in the Lea Valley at the end of next month. Bizarrely, Ju Young Park has been selected for South Korea's Olympic team, which means he could end up more than doubling the number of games he has played in England by August. Like I say, a slow news day.

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