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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Rafa's thoughts and insights during Euro 08

Welcome to Euro 2008 and welcome to this column. As you may already know, fortunately, my professional obligations don’t allow me contributions of this type during the football season. Therefore, I will take advantage of this opportunity that EL MUNDO is offering me to share across some of my ideas about football in general and this Euro Cup in particular.

In the first place, I will let you know that my idea of good football and my concept of a good team relies on team order, balance on defense and cutting-edge on attack. To accomplish this you need players who are able to read the game well, who know when it’s time to play short or long passes, when you need to attack through the middle or down the flank, when it’s time to keep posession of the ball or when you need to start a quick counter-attack. I’m talking about real footballers, who will take advantage of their abilities to help the team win by playing as well as possible, who will be able to adapt when needed, who will try to impose their style of play, but who can also vary that style for the benefit of the team and to help it win games.

In today’s football, cutting-edge in attack is becoming more and more of a collective or tactical effort, depends more on a group of players or positioning on the pitch than on a single player. This is why a skillfull player tends to draw our attention more often, but we must be able to distinguish between the skillfull player and the cutting-edge player.

The first will dribble or dwell on the ball showing his technical ability; the second wins matches, is a constant threat to opposing teams and the solution for his team-mates when they can’t find their way. With a single touch he can find an open team-mate, he can find an open space when and where he should, makes an effort to do things the right way and always tries to do what will benefit his team the most. In other words, he will play good football in order to win matches, not just for show.

After this explanation, I will give you my views on this competition as an active manager, something that will give you a different perspective on this Euro Cup. I think that for a group of footballers who’ve played so many games during the season – 59 in the case of Liverpool players- , there are too many games in the qualifying stages.

In order to give an opportunity to all the national teams, there are many games that, beforehand, don’t create a lot of interest. As a player or a manager it doesn’t make much sense to coming into a match thinking how many goals they will score on me and leave happy if it’s not more than three. And as a fan it’s not fun when they opposing team’s level is not the adequate. Besides, this accumulation of effort during the season increases the risk of injury. Ryan Babel just got injured for five or six weeks, Cannavaro won’t be able to play the Euro as well. And that’s just scratching the surface.

In terms of the chances for the different teams, I believe that we are all betting on the same teams with little variation. Portugal has the potential and a favourable draw. Germany looks the strongest on their group, not forgetting Croatia. Group C, by far, is the most difficult since the likes of France, Holland or Italy are capable of topping the group. The strength on that group will eventually be bad for Spain, which is the team that most of us are interested in, because if they are able to go through, which they will, they will have to face a very strong team regardless of which one it is.

Despite all this we are all confident that this will finally be the year that at last we take advantage of all the talent and potential that we possess and that we can achieve that sought –after title that we all been waiting for. Good luck and good football.
Let’s save the offside ruling
The Euro Cup has begun and a lone goal by Czech player Václav Sverkoš was enough to sink the Swiss hosts in the inaugural match. It had been many years since the opening game of this competition was decided by a single goal. I seem to remember the last time, when France beat Denmark with a solitary goal by, the now UEFA president, Michel Platini.

Long gone are the days when the first matches were played very openly and many goals were scored, like that France-Yugoslavia in 1960’s Euro Cup, where the visitors won 4-5. The reason seems evident. In a tournament of this nature, the first match is so important that nobody wants to lose. If you lose, you are forced to win the remaining two games and do so under great pressure. Perhaps, for this very same reason, the first match tends to be a ‘testing of the waters’, to get to know and measure up the opponents and not risk too much to avoid any surprises. The negative thing is, that if both teams do the same, we won’t see many chances.

This is what happened during Switzerland-Czech Republic; the team that took advantage of the opponent’s mistake won the match. Incidentally, regarding that lone goal, it must be said that it came to be in an interesting situation, to be analyzed from the regulation’s point of view. We all know that there should be more than two players between the opposing team’s player and the byline in order to eliminate the possibility of offside, if the attacking player is in a forward position ahead of the ball. However, with all changes regarding this rule, the most passionate and complex in my opinion, I believe that an enormous amount of confusion is created for the fans and, more importantly and determining, the referees and assistants.

Now they talk about “position plus influence” and, after an innumerable number of mistakes and varying interpretations, I believe that it is time to go back and simplify the ruling so that a player in an offside position, whether or not he participates initially, should be ruled offsides since his ‘illegal’ position could benefit him later in the chance of a clearance. And his positioning on the pitch will always command a defenders and /or keeper’s attention if he is located near the box. Thus, in order to help the refs, who end up getting all the blame, and to avoid further scandals, I believe that, any time an attacking player is ahead of the ball and there are no defenders between said player and the byline, he should be ruled offsides.

At least, in the vicinities of the penalty box. A different story would be if he was standing near a sideline where he’s clearly not involved in the play. In that case, the play should continue. But in the centre, the striker is always a threat and a cause of distraction. Don’t tell me that it wasn’t great to watch that unforgettable Milan team, of the never highly-enough praised Arrigo Sacchi, working on the offside trap…I assure you that for managers and players it would be a relief also, because we would know what to expect and wouldn’t depend on every referee’s interpretation of the rule, whom in the end, are human beings, and thus not infallible.

In other respects, Portugal showed their credentials in a duel that opened up as the game went on and, when the score-line forced the Turks to leave spaces behind, the likes of Pepe and individual details from players like Cristiano Ronaldo or Nuno Gomes were seen. At the end, Meireles secured a win that, like we mentioned on Friday, puts Portugal in good position to continue as one of the favourites.

Meanwhile, Spain’s debut is fast approaching, where they must count on everyone’s support, maintain the good atmosphere and the team unity and avoid as much as possible, the debates over one type of style of play or another or a specific player or another. If we don’t do these things, the smallest of adversity will create division and we will lose energy and cohesion. This would, in prompt, create problems that don’t even exist at present time. Calm and support will the key for Spain.
Unconditional Support

Before talking about Spain’s uncontested win yesterday in their Euro Cup debut, I would like to say that for me it’s all about unconditional support. Unconditional support for good football, for the style of play shown by Germany, especially in the first half, against Poland. With might and resourcefulness, with the full-backs providing support in attack, and the midfielders creating chances and scoring goals.

Support for Holland’s offensive style, with special mentions to Sneijder and Kuyt. The first scored a goal, gave an assist and was a constant threat with his intelligent moves. The second showed, as always, his professionalism and team mentality, closing down the rival fullback, playing simple passes and adding two goal-assists which confirms that the good players are those that work for the benefit of the group and that, thanks to them, the star players are able to shine brighter because the entire group ends up winning.

Unconditional support for Spain. But unconditional in the good and bad times. It’s not support depending on the result; to criticize in a destructive manner there is always a time, and besides, it’s the easy thing to do. When someone is fully immersed in a competition, the important thing is to have unity, to respect and back the decisions taken by the people in charge and to do everything possible for things to go well. If the people in charge decide to play a certain style and choose the men they deem adequate to put it to practice, we must accept it and not side ourselves depending on the scoreline. It’s more honest to give an opinion based on reasoning beforehand so that you can back it later unconditionally.

I don’t like the pundits or experts who, sitting on their office desks, dedicate themselves to happily criticize a manager’s decisions while never stopping to think for a second why those decisions were made. Nor the fundamentalists with their positions- their mouths become full when they call them “philosophies” or “proposals”- who systematically criticize any idea that is different to theirs. Since I am a manager, it is very clear to me that the person in charge of a team tries to analyze all aspects before making a decision and has an advantage over any outsider: the daily contact with the players. For all these reasons, I insist on: unconditional support first and then constructive analysis until the Euro Cup is over, then there’ll be plenty of time for the summary trials.

Now yes, now I will focus on yesterday’s 4-1 victory. Spain definitely bet four midfielders who are mobile and have quality and took advantage of the Russian’s individual man-marking. They were losing their positioning and we were able to maintain possession. Once the first goal was scored, the Russians went forward and left spaces behind for the likes of Torres and Villa to exploit with their pace and intelligent runs. We had some problems, this is true, with their runs down the right flank, but the 2-0 on a counter-attack guided the way for us.

The start of second half was a continuation of the end of the first half. With Russia pushing forward and Spain controlling the ball and playing on the counter-attack. The difference was that Luis sacrificed Torres to add another player in-between the lines like Fabregas, trying to take more advantage, if possible, of our quality in midfield. The rest of the substitutions were to balance the team and add fresh legs. We saw a good understanding between Torres and Villa as long as Fernando was on the pitch and even afterwards. The hug on the sidelines after the 3-0 shows that there is good harmony between the two. In conclusion, Spain made a good impression, which could prove important for their self-esteem and, besides, to send a warning to their rivals. Congratulations.

First objective accomplished

Spain are through to the quarterfinals. There was suspense until the very end but Villa’s goal earned Spain a just victory. To the points, we deserved to win the match against Sweden yesterday and seal, at the same time, a place in the next round. I had already discussed on prior entries the importance of winning the first match. At the time, I said how important it was for every team to avoid defeat, but now, increasingly, we’re seeing how determining it is to win the first two matches.

If you’ve already qualified for the next round after two matches, which is the case for Portugal, Croatia, Holland and now Spain, you have a very valuable advantage. For two main reasons. First, because you can change players – I don’t want to use the famous word ‘rotation’-, which will allow you to rest some players after a very long season, first with their clubs and now with the national team, and will allow other players to participate, gain match-fitness and to feel an active and important part of the squad. And then, as a consequence, you will improve the group dynamics, the cohesion and team concept, something that, for the rest of the tournament, could prove to be key.

Regarding the issue between Luis and Torres, I still feel that it was blown out of proportion, fortunately we can now say that it was left at nothing. Fernando admitted immediately his possible fault and, after some time and consideration by Luis, everything was sorted. The fact that Torres started the match yesterday it’s the best indication that everything is fine and we can focus on the action on the pitch and not on these little incidents.

Another aspect to consider is the makeup of the calendar and possible future matchups. I didn’t like it from the start because I saw that the teams were divided into two groups that would not face each other until the end. And the fact that Holland could benefit, in theory, if they don’t earn any points against Romania, and that doesn’t seem right to me.

Back to the match against Sweden, ‘good is that, which ends up well’. Spain went into the match with the same starting XI and the same style of play as in the first match. We had to keep possession of the ball, the fullbacks had to give support in attack in order to add width and the wingers cutting in to create a number advantage in the middle. With this idea, we had control of the game, although we barely managed any chances. After the opportunistic and excellent goal by Fernando, after a corner-kick, the second shot on goal did not arrive, curiously enough, as a result of an elaborate possession. On the contrary, it was a long ball from Sergio(Ramos) and Villa had a shot off a ‘second ball’. From there on, Sweden took control and that’s when they leveled the score. Only at the end of this stretch did we create any danger on a play which ended with a claim for a penalty.

After half-time, the story was similar. Spain had at one point between 65 and 70% of the possession. There were some clear chances, but that superiority was still not being productive and you had the feeling that Spain was going to have a very tough time to score the second goal. Nonetheless, it was the long-ball once again which proved fruitful right before the end of the match. Villa showed once again his great skill as a goal-scorer and was implacable. We must conclude, as a result, that the theory that Spain must depend on a short-passing game of many touches is not necessarily an obligation. It is true that our national team should have a well defined style of play but at the same time it should be open to other alternatives that, facts in hand, can prove effective. In conclusion, we should all agree that Spain’s balance must be a positive one.
Italy won’t make it easy

Italy will be Spain’s opponent in the quarterfinals. You could argue about aesthetics when it comes to their playing style, but what one could never dispute is their effectiveness. They play to win and that they do frequently. They are very professional and have players with quality and experience. A great goalkeeper, balance in midfield, order, a reference player up front and work-rate, plenty of work-rate. Spain are very confident and they are capable of beating Italy but it won’t be an easy task.

Before that, the first quarterfinal match will be played by Portugal and Germany. I get the feeling that out of this duel, in normal conditions, will surface one of the finalists. If Croatia doesn’t prevent it – because, beforehand, they’re the favourites in their match against Turkey by virtue of their impressive showing so far-, whoever comes out victorious in that Portugal-Germany will have a very good possibility of reaching the final because of experience and potential. The fact that the Portuguese outfit were better than the Turks and the Croatians were superior to the Germans would make you think that those two were the actual favourites. Nevertheless, let’s not forget that we’re talking about football and, like Petr Cech could assure you after his match against Turkey, it’s not over until the ref blows the full-time whistle.

The second matchup in the quarterfinals will square up in Vienna the strengths of Croatia and Turkey. Beforehand, like I already said, we would have to bet on the Croatians. Because of their good performance in this tourney and, to some extent, the social vindication that encompasses their special nationalist sentiment. Experience has shown me that there are some countries whose players feel more intensely, if possible, what it means to defend a country’s flag even beyond the field of sports.

The third game in the calendar is yet to be determined until we know the name of one of the participants. Holland, who qualified brilliantly and in an uncontested manner, will be favourites, whether they play Sweden or Russia. Neither of the two seems like a serious threat for the potent Dutch team, yet we should once again remember that, in football, nothing is written until the epilogue.

I don’t want to pass up the opportunity today to mention, very quickly, the match that will be played on Wednesday between Spain and Greece. If everything goes according to prediction, Pepe Reina, Alvaro Arbeloa and Xabi Alonso will all be part of the starting eleven managed by Luis Aragones. For me, as their manager and for our club Liverpool FC, this is an honour and a great satisfaction. They know that ‘our supporters’ will be unconditionally with them and, as a result, with Spain.

Another good piece of news in this Euro Cup is the confirmation of the good level of the Spanish referees, supported by the excellent performances of Manuel Enrique Mejuto and his assistants, showing good criteria and authority. And most importantly for me, and something that shows their good performance, is that, after many minutes of play, I hadn’t even realized who the referee was in both of the matches he officiated, which says a lot in his favour.

Good luck against Greece for the Spanish national team, and I wish Luis Aragones’s players a good match. And to Pepe, if possible, a new ‘clean sheet’.
The curse is over

Spain had to rely on penalty kicks last night in order to break their curse and to seal, at the same time, their pass to a semifinal matchup against Russia. Both of the contenders yesterday drew on almost everything until the extra-time was exhausted. Then, the spot kicks from 11 meters out went on our favour.

Earlier, the first half had gone as expected. The absences of Pirlo and Gatusso left the Italians without their most creative player and their workhorse in midfield. Ambrosini, positioned towards the left, and Perrota or Aquilani, to the right, didn’t provide any depth to their team which could only rely on long balls to Luca Toni, broken plays or Cassano’s ability on the left flank. Spain, dominating the possession of the ball near the opposing penalty box, were looking for the key pass at any moment. It wasn’t easy because of the accumulation of players in the same place, but the fouls that were called near the box, and those that weren’t, presented a threat to Buffon. Luis wanted to see more play between the lines, and the positional change between Silva and Iniesta yielded fruit to some menacing long shots. Despite that, we reached half-time with a nil-nil draw that didn’t reward Spain’s best play.

After half-time, the Italian play was much improved. Specially with the addition of Camoranesi, Italy had their chances. And Spain also had theirs thanks to the added depth provided by Cesc’s play. But nothing prevented that both teams were doomed for extra-time. Once there, the tiredness on both teams was quite evident. Finally, the penalty kicks decided the contest.

The favourites fall

In the rest of the games, curiously, all the favourites lost. Germany, playing simple and effective football and taking advantage of the set pieces, left Portugal on the curb. Scolari’s men, with lots of quality, were not able to surpass the well-ordered German team. They paid for their defensive mistakes and now the departure of Scolari to Chelsea and Madrid’s interest on Ronaldo will once again be the main headlines related to Portugal. Ballack pointed to the change in the system as the key to the improvement of this team’s performance. His position, behind the striker and the protection of two midfielders at his back, gave the team more solidness.

The match between Croatia and Turkey was, once again, an epic for the ottomans. They made another comeback in the last minute, leveled the match, to win, after extra-time, on penalties. In a very tense duel, with both teams well-organized and, later on, disorganized, many players surfaced on both sides, to show their individual quality and, above all, showing effort, great effort and passion. Fatih Terim highlighted the confidence and determination of his men as the keys for the victory. I completely agree with him.

And to confirm the revolution of the modest teams, Russia finished off one of the best teams in the tournament: Holland. Displaying a good play on attack, and especially on the counter-attack, the Russians created many chances and at the end justice was made. The better team, won. The match was very open, both teams reached the opposing goal rather easily but Hiddink’s men attacked with more clarity and frequency. They deserved to go through. The ‘oranje’ offensive system, with two wingers and a striker, was very weak on defense. Good luck in the semifinal.
Another date with history

Spain has a new date with history tonight. In the re-match against Russia we are all hoping for the same outcome. That Luis can put on hold all the news about his departure to Fenerbahçe, that he can repeat the same team, style of play and result…, but also that the players approach the game with the proper mentality, by not being overconfident because of the 4-1 result in their first meeting, and by being ready to face the expected high temperatures in Vienna today.

In front we'll have a team, Russia, that have gotten stronger as the competition went on and reached the semifinals by their own merits, based on a joyful and offensive style of play and with a better physical condition than their rivals. The fact that the Russian league's season started not so long ago and that most of their players play in it helps a bit.

From a tactical standpoint, Spain, in order to counteract the Russian’s virtues, must control the game. Spain must dominate possession of the ball, as they’ve been doing so far, so that they run less and also get less tired. The biggest threat is on giving the ball away and the possible counter-attacks by the opposing team – which they usually manage very well with Yuri Zhirkov on the left flank-, on the creativity and play between the lines of Andrei Arshavin and the work and constant threat of Roman Pavlyuchenko.

The motivation and compromise of the Spaniards offers no doubts. It seems that the entire core have their ideas very clear and they know what they must do at every moment, which makes us optimist ahead of this, I repeat, difficult match. Perhaps, as it usually happens, the strength of the group has been more determinant than a specific player at a given moment. One day it was Villa, another day Torres, last time Casillas… I really liked Marchena against Italy and Senna played at a great level. But we must give Luis his due credit, for knowing how to blend in the efforts of this compact group of players.

And I touch once again on the structure of the calendar. It’s simply demented to repeat matchups between teams that have already faced each other during the group stage. It would’ve been so simple, it seems to me, to cross trajectories and see new matchups during the semifinals.

By the way, speaking of these, history is on our side and, based on it, we should be optimist. In two occasions before today we’ve reached a semifinal of the Euro Cup. The first was with Spain as hosts in 1964. We beat Hungary and then did the same in the final, curiously against Russia.

The second time, the ending wasn’t so positive. It’s true that we beat Denmark in France’84 but we lost against the French the final in Paris. Let’s hope that this third time we don’t fail, not today against Russia nor afterwards in the deciding match.
5th…and revalidation (Sp)

Spain will play in a final again after 24 years. The national team, which continues to make history, beat Russia after a shaky first half but with great authority after the break. The goals by Xavi, who broke the deadlock, Güiza and Silva, after a good counter-attack, put an end to the resistance of Hiddink’s team, which ended up as diluted as a sugar cube in a cup of coffee. Only their target man, Roman Pavlyuchenko, showed glimpses of what was expected of them. On the other hand, the highly-touted Andrei Arshavin, who had all eyes on him, was not a shadow of himself and practically didn’t contribute much to his team’s play.

However, we reached halftime without any goals because both teams were very cautious. Spain, who did enjoy a higher number of chances although they had less possession, did not take advantage when they had the ball, especially at the start of the match. Then, Russia equilibrated the balance with some chances, but with the same sterile result. The usual change of positions between Silva and Iniesta was the most notable tactical nuance until the substitution of Cesc for the injured Villa. After the asturiano’s exit, Torres was the sole reference up front and Fabregas, who later demolished the opposition, helped to gain more control in midfield.

Xavi’s goal put Spain ahead at the start of the second half and Luis’s men were a bigger threat on the counter-attack while their self-esteem grew, which resulted on a better distribution of the football. Meanwhile, the Russian’s confusion was evidenced with two substitutions and the same number of yellow cards in a 10 minute stretch. The addition of Xabi Alonso and Güiza in detriment of Xavi and Torres seemed to respond to the idea of keeping the same profile in terms of style but looking for more precision by adding fresh players. Güiza’s goal, after good service from Cesc, certified all the fore-mentioned and sentenced the match.

That’s where the match practically ended. Curiously enough, the loss of the team’s top scorer, Villa, allowed the entrance of the man who, finally, would prove key for the victory, Fabregas. Spain passed with flying colours the semi-final test and next Sunday will vie for their hounour’s degree against a strong and potent team, with tradition, like the Germans.

By the way, referring to the other semifinal, where Germany went through, I’d like to comment that Turkey almost pulled it off once again. They were close to forcing extra-time and, they didn’t, because of that late German goal that they conceded on an action that I would like to touch on out of curiosity. The scorer was Lahm, a right-footed player that faced up Rustu from the left side of the attack. The normal thing in this situation is to shoot at the far post, but the attacking player shot hard, high and to the near post. Following the European school of goalkeeping, the Turk did the right thing more or less, which was to try to cover the most space possible although with no success. If he had gone for the South-American approach, especially in Argentina, he would’ve kept straight, with a knee on the ground and he would’ve likely stopped the shot. It’s not easy to handle both options, but I think it is a coachable aspect.
Spain doesn't walk alone

Ever since we arrived in England, four years ago, there’s been many times that I’ve heard talk about an affinity, parallels and mutual affection. Whether it was the “Spanish Liverpool”, or that the Anfield club was the adopted team of many Spaniards, or the massive television audiences tuning in to the Premier…The latest, as a result of the Euro Cup and after England’s failure to qualify for the finals, is that there is a general feeling of support towards the Spanish national team that is perceived in numerous types of situations on a daily basis here in Liverpool.

Everyone from English friends who shout “we’re going to win” with heavy emphasis on the verb, to text messages that fall in the same line of uncontrollable euphoria, and even special situations that I would like to expand on. One of our captains, Jamie Carragher, owns a restaurant at the heart of the city. Across from Eleanor Rigby’s statue, perpendicular to Mathew St., you can see today two huge Spain flags that hang from each of the side windows at the entrance. Here, he has changed the name from Café Sports England to a circumstantial, I believe, Café Sports Spain.

Inside, where hundreds of English fans meet up to watch on the numerous tv sets spread all over the establishment’s walls, you can spot the photographs of Pepe Reina, Alvaro Arbeloa, Xabi Alonso and, now, especially, Fernando Torres. But this is not all. If you ask for the menu, you will find dishes like these: “Torres’s Tortilla Omellete”, “Pepe’s Pepperoni Pizza”, “Alonso’s Spicy Chicken Wings” or “Arbeloa’s Barbecue Ribs”. Not to mention the reporters from all the different English TV stations, wearing a Spanish shirt, asking for people’s predictions for the final. They’ve been doing it since the start of the Euro Cup.

But let’s speak about today’s final. Spain, even without Villa, seem like the favourites on everyone’s mind. I believe that they’ve earned that right. Our play, based on controlling the ball and supported by the quality of many of our players, is a difficult thing to counteract by the opposing teams. Little by little they begin to give way to the Spanish push and, when they concede a goal, they lose control of the situation, and their subsequent lack of order gives way to conceding more goals. Germany possess order, physical prowess and quality in some of their players. But, honestly, I believe that if Aragones’s men impose their style of play, the Germans will suffer. Specially their central defenders who are way too big and corpulent. If Silva, Iniesta or Fabregas receive the ball in between lines, Torres will receive more than one promising ball.

Back to the German team, Lahm’s runs forward, surprising from the back, Schweinsteiger, on the right, and Ballack, as an attacking midfielder if he finally plays, are their best weapons. Acknowledging, like I said before, that Spain are the favourites, the only ‘but’ is something that all managers are aware of. And that is that the Germans are incredibly competitive and very difficult to beat. One last thing. I don’t know what Luis’s plan is for tonight, or whether Torres will play. But I want to speak about Fernando for a moment. First there was talk of his good understanding with Villa but when he got to play alone up front, his sole presence was a constant threat for the opposing defences, creating space between the lines that was other players were able to take advantage of. For this reason, I’m shocked by some of the ruthless critique he has received for his overall contribution.
Twenty-four years later

24 years ago, when the Spanish national team lost the final in Paris, of the Eurocup in France’84, Fernando Torres was barely three months old. Last night, in Vienna, the madrileño put sentence to a final that will become a part of history. He will too and in style. Spain won their second continental title and they did so brilliantly. They were superior to each and every one of their opponents and did so with a playing style based on ball possession, depth in attack, and executed by players of great quality. Then, Luis did the rest. First, he chose the proper men to suit his ideas. Then, he kept them united until the very end. Yesterday, during the epilogue, he only needed to preserve the formula of success.

Germany kept the 4-4-1-1 that gave them so much success in the last games. There was speculation that they were going to play with two strikers (4-4-2), but at the end Ballack, behind Klose, was their proposal. Meanwhile, Spain came out with the expected formation with Fabregas moving behind Torres. On the contrary, they had less possession than usual and were playing more on the counter-attack.

On one of those solitary actions, Torres imposed his pace and power over Lahm and finished superbly with a touch of quality over Lehman. It was on the 33rd minute and his dart was worth a final. From there on, the Germans went forward and the usual runs by Lahm himself were met by those of Metzelder, taking risks that Fernando was always willing to exploit.

With Spain ahead on the scoreboard, the second half was a repetition of the first. Germany again started very strong, betting, this time, on a 4-4-2 with the addition of Kuranyi up front. Despite all efforts, Spain steadily recovered their level, like they did in the first half, and balanced the control of the ball while enjoying some clear chances of sentencing the final. They had many chances on the counter-attack and Torres was looking a bigger threat every time. But the scoreboard wouldn’t change. At the end, the Spanish explosion, festivities at its fullest and the special prominence of Fernando. I’m happy for him, for Pepe, for Xabi, for Alvaro and for everyone else. My congratulations to them.

In conclusion, we reached the end of a Eurocup where, in my point of view, we had an excess of games and where we were surprised with some of the games that went into extra-time, giving us the feeling that some of the national teams were not very fresh at the end of games. With various teams that had looked promising leaving home early and with a superior Spanish team that were just winners. Better that way. About the semifinal draws, demented, better not speak about.

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Quote of the moment

Defying belief however, is a market Benitez has cornered quite well. The moment you think Benitez is clueless, he defies it by pulling off a result of majesty, like the one achieved in Madrid. The moment he is hailed a genius, he masterminds toothless surrender to a team going nowhere. In the ongoing Anfield power struggle, just when he was cornered by the firing squad, the Spaniard's demise at Liverpool looking practically assured with the ominous suspension of betting by the bookmakers, he squeezes out through a narrow trapdoor and eliminates Rick Parry. Rafa Benitez is Keyzer Soze.
- Just Football blog: The Curious Beast that is Football 28 Feb 2009