Tag Archives: spain

The Very Best Of Friends

It’s La Liga’s winter vacation, and Lionel Messi hasn’t scored a goal in more than two weeks. Which, after Messi’sbarca real era-defining, award-winning, 91-goal 2012, comes as a bit of a relief. He’s good, but enough already. Messi’s Barcelona is undefeated in the league, and with two Champions League titles, four La Liga championships and the odd Official FIFA Triumph[1] under its belt, the team is arguably (because these things are always arguable) the greatest of modern times.

At this point, the ins and outs of Barcelona’s recent history are common knowledge: how homegrown players like Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Puyol, Valdes, Pedro, Busquets and Messi gelled in Barca’s legendary academy; how Zlatan Ibrahimovich, one of the most talented players of his generation, simply couldn’t adjust to Barca’s selfless passing style and eventually fell out with Pep Guardiola (supposedly the nicest man in football, so the joke was definitely on Zlatan); how Spain, a perennial underachiever for most of its history, suddenly became world and European champions, thanks mostly to the same homegrown players (minus Messi) who boarded together as kids. It’s impossible to understand the last five years of football history without first understanding Barcelona. Since 2008, virtually everything that’s happened on the European football scene has happened because of Guardiola-era Barca.

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Reflecting on the Euros: 15 Things We Learned

1.      It’s getting harder and harder to host- In recent years, FIFA and UEFA have made a lot of noise about the importance of spreading football around the globe, encouraging traditionally unsuccessful football nations to host international tournaments. It’s no surprise, then, that, despite a couple of glorious moments, this year’s hosts were both eliminated before the first knockout round. After all, neither Poland nor Ukraine is one of the best eight teams in Europe.

Wild expectations don’t help. After Poland’s disappointing 1-1 draw with Greece, Francizek Smuda claimed that his team had been “paralyzed by pressure.” Ukraine looked similarly disabled against England, though a controversial goal-line decision provided them with a readymade excuse.

2.      Holland are still unreliable- Almost 40 years after the 1974 World Cup final, Holland are still masters of self-destruction. First, their pre-tournament preparation was marred by a dressing room argument over whether certain black players had been racially abused by someone outside the squad. Then the team imploded against Denmark, Arjen Robben forgot how to shoot, and Robin Van Persie reverted to, well, Robin Van Persie-at-the-2010-World-Cup-form. Holland exited the Euros without a single point, and Bert Van Marwijk resigned soon thereafter.

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Balotelli’s Talent Comes Good

Mario Balotelli stood shirtless, his intimidating muscles flexed, staring straight ahead. He refused to betray any emotion. Indeed, he refused to do anything other than stand and stare. But then his teammates engulfed him, and, through a crowd of sweating bodies, his face slowly softened into the faintest trace of a smile.

On Thursday night, Loew’s German players stopped being world beaters and instead became nearly-men. Italy progressed to the final, where they will serve as the last obstacle in Spain’s pursuit of a historic third consecutive tournament victory. Antonio Cassano, who suffered a stroke in October, elevated himself from endearing bad boy to national hero. Andrea Pirlo commanded midfield with his customary elegance and poise, but the contributions of others overshadowed him. Italy’s was the ultimate team performance. 

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Fabregas Fights For Starting Spot

The one thing missing from Cesc Fabregas’ catalogue of honors is a victory at a major club tournament. Fabregas has never won a league title or a Champions League. In terms of trophies – and, in the modern game, football success is almost always measured in trophies – Fabregas still lags behind his international colleagues.

His move to Barcelona was supposed to change all that, and, eventually, it may. Last season, however, Fabregas failed to justify the years of wrangling that preceded his transfer. Although he impressed for the first few months, injury halted his progress, and he never regained that early momentum. In the months between Barcelona’s trip to Espanyol in January and Spain’s opening game two weeks ago, he didn’t score a single goal. Fabregas’ barren run seems even worse compared with the recent successes of his Spain teammates.

Fabregas is part of a generation of Spanish footballers that will probably never be bettered. The Xavi-Iniesta-Busquets-Alonso midfield is peerless. The presence of those four footballers, as well as striker David Villa and defenders Gerard Pique and Carlos Puyol, in the same country at roughly the same time is a never-to-be-repeated phenomenon.

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Nasri Seeks Redemption

On the face of it, Manchester City’s thrilling title success looks like Nasri’s plan come to fruition. Despite the claims of Gunners fans, he left Arsenal not for money, but for a shot at the trophies that have eluded Arsene Wenger for eight years. To Nasri, Manchester City, with their Arab riches, represented an enticing chance for sustained, silver-lined success.

Nasri had enjoyed a productive spell at Arsenal. He missed out on major honors, but his goals – especially a brace against Fulham – solidified his reputation as one of Europe’s most dangerous creative midfielders. Come summer 2011, he was a hot property. First Manchester United and then Chelsea chased his signature. Eastlands, though, was always his preferred destination: “That’s all I wanted since the start,” he said after sealing the move. “I’m happy to be there in this dressing room.”

Perhaps some of the success went to his head. In his first interview with Manchester City’s official television channel, Nasri claimed that Arsenal fans are “not that passionate”. The remarks quickly backfired.

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Death of the Striker?

There’s nothing better than an accomplished center forward. A selfish, two-footed goal-scoring machine; a Gerd Muller or a Marco van Basten. Strikers score goals and goals win games, or so the cliché goes. Of late, however, strikers have become expendable. Indeed, the position seems to be going out of fashion.

When David Villa broke his leg at the Club World Cup, Spain manager Vincente Del Bosque was left with a tactical conundrum. Should he take a risk on misfiring Chelsea striker Fernando Torres, or field fatiguing Athletic Bilbao front man Fernando Llorente instead? In the end, Del Bosque rejected both options. When Spain kicked off against Italy, they did so without a recognized striker. Flanked by David Silva and Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas started through the middle as a false nine – Lionel Messi’s position for Barcelona.

That approach proved unsuccessful: Italy’s back three coped easily with the toothless Spanish attack, and Torres returned to the starting line-up for the next game, versus the Republic of Ireland. But the willingness of the reigning European and World champions — football trendsetters for the last four years –to countenance a striker-less system raises important questions about the future of the position.

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The European Championships Mark A Football Crossroads

As those annoying Internet clocks countdown to opening day of the 2012 European Championships, we can’t seem to resist a slow, nostalgic stroll down memory lane. We indulge ourselves in Panenka penalties, Van Basten volleys and Schmeichel saves. We lament Southgate’s miss in 1996 and glory in the wonders of Turkey’s 2008 run.

The resonance of the European Championships is astounding. They have provided a canvas for some of the most entertaining international football of the last 20 years and, more recently, they have inaugurated massive tactical and stylistic changes. Short-termism is, perhaps, the defining characteristic of modern football. In the past, tactical trends lasted for decades. These days, they exist in four-year cycles. And, increasingly, those periods are bookended by the European Championships.

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INFTH Book Review: Morbo

Morbo. In the passionate world of Spanish football, where pigs’ heads fly from the stands and clubs take on quasi-political roles in the lives of millions, it is an undefinable source of intrigue which keeps the masses coming back for more. In his book, Phil Ball admits early on to the impossibility of clear translation, but nevertheless places the force at the center of his arguments. It is morbo, he writes, that is the essence of Spain’s national pastime. Morbo; the self-perpetuating, ever evolving creature which forms the hub of rivalries across the peninsula.

This view of the game – through the vitriolic, morbo ridden inter club relationships that make up Spanish professional football – is a novel one indeed. It treats football not so much as a tool for higher political wrangling, but as a phenomenon deserving of appreciation in its own right.

An expert in his field, Ball is an authoritative guide, one that understands the context of his subject. While consumption takes an appetite for basic politics, a sense of fun continually pervades; the one that keeps fans interested in football and readers interested in reading.

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