The progression of a game based on passing and moving has developed over the years, with the Hungary team of the 40s and 50s, and the push-and-run Tottenham team of the same era both achieving landmark successes. Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff developed Total Football in Amsterdam and Catalonia, and Cruyff’s own dream team as Barcelona Manager was an embodiment of his philosophy. But these last two years, with Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona winning the 2010/11 Champions League at Wembley, followed by Spain’s record breaking Euro 2012 triumph, have signalled a new milestone, with Sunday night’s win an anti-dote to the anti-football success of Chelsea in May.
The Spanish National Team have now followed Guardiola’s model, with the withdrawn sole central striker, a formation BBC analyst Gianluca Vialli accurately described on Sunday as a system where space is the forward. He noted that it is at time a system that has one goalkeeper, two defenders and eight midfields and no recognised strikers. (And those two defenders aren’t bad on the ball either, as their penalties in the shoot-out against Portugal reminded us).
As this column noted ahead of the final, the attacking full-backs would look to push up in a game that was likely to be congested in the centre. Spain hunted in packs and Pirlo, in contrast to the time and space he had against England who were sitting back with two banks of four, was hounded as quickly as Spain pressed high, like Barcelona. Their latest signing, the left-back of the tournament in a championship that has had some classy full-backs, Jordi Alba, exploited the space he had with a beautifully timed run to score the crucial second-goal that effectively killed the game as Spain dominated in possession, territory and goals.
Playing with a quicker tempo on the ball and from the start than in their knockout previous games against France and Portugal, Spain pinned Italy back, and though the Italians worked hard off-the-ball, they had little possession or opportunities to create chances. By the time they were down to ten men through injuries, two goals down and run ragged Spain filled their boots with a couple more, cutting them open at ease to create the biggest win in a major final.
With a style of play based on technique and football intelligence Spain have made the game simple and nice to watch at the same time. And with unparalleled success, they have raised the standard in the game as a whole.
The Substantive Football Columnist Mel Gomes’ new e-book ‘Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley’ is now available to preview and download from Amazon and Smashwords. With past recollections of matches including Clasicos, Milan Derbies and Diego Maradona’s one appearance at White Hart Lane, it covers a journey over land and sea in the 2010-11 Champions League. New, independent writing on popular culture, it is being backed by The Substantive.