Sorry Germany, Spain are still the kings of International football
By Oliver Wilson
The European club football calendar finished in a whirlwind of discussion regarding the balance of power in the continent’s game.
Before a ball had even been kicked in the all-German Champions League Final at Wembley in May, Europe’s footballing experts were breaking down the likelihood of a new wave of dominance in the sport emanating from the land of lederhosen and beer.
Meanwhile the all conquering conquistadors of Spanish Football, Real Madrid and Barcelona, lay broken on the battlefield after their humbling – and in the Catalan club’s case humiliating – defeat at the hands Bayern Munich in the Champions League’s semi-finals.
Many felt that Spain’s dominance, on both the domestic and international stages, was coming to an end, while others were skeptical about the ‘new era’ being ushered into football, believing that Bayern Munich were the only side who could continually topple Spain’s best. The Bavarians hefty transfer and wage budget being the prime reason, while Germany’s other top sides would struggle to meet the challenge without those same resources.
The divide was a near 50/50 split, with many sitting on the fence and choosing to play the waiting game before sticking their neck out on the line and siding with a camp. Many of those 'inbetweeners' may be sliding across to the Spanish camp once again if this summer continues to follow it’s current path.
On Tuesday, Spain’s young hopefuls will meet Italy in the European Championship Under-21’s final in Jerusalem. A repeat of last summer’s European Championships final seemed on the cards for the Italian’s as their impressive side made short work or England, Israel and Norway in Group A but questions hung over the Spanish contingents’ chances of making the last four after they were drawn with both Holland and Germany in Group B of the tournament.
The doubters were silenced quickly as the young La Rojitas slugged their way past Russia in their opening game before turning on the jets as both Germany and then Holland fell at the feet of Isco, Alvaro Morata and Co. Their play reminded us of just how good Spanish football can look and washed away the memories of the slowed down Barcelona that has crept into La Liga. These younger legs stroked the ball around the pitches of their Group B matches, and the semi-final clash with Norway, with a graceful ease and simplicity. Some were even comparing the quality on display to that of the senior squad.
Fast forward to Brazil...
The first half of Spain’s opening game of the Confederations Cup reminded us that there are few who can come close to matching the skill and quality of Spain’s starting XI. It became hard to remember Uruguay having a touch in an opening 45 minutes. This was the kings of international football at their best. The midfield trio of Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Sergio Busquets dominated the heart of the pitch and, once again, pulled the strings to every move. No pass was too short to make, no ball to heavy to control and at no time did a Spaniard find themselves isolated on the ball. There was always at least one teammate continually providing an easy outlet pass in even the tightest of corners. It was the Spanish football that many of us had forgotten existed as German efficiency and power had pulled the wool over our eyes in the Champions League. This was near perfection.
Roberto Soldado replicated his club form with wonderful off the ball runs and showed a strikers instinct when faced with an opportunity to find the target, while Cesc Fabregas sat behind him and looked far more comfortable in his role off the target man then he has on occasions at Barca this season.
The second half continued in a similar pattern however Uruguay did find more spark after the arrival of Diego Forlan before forcing a cagey final 5-minutes thanks to a fantastic Luis Suarez free-kick that halved the World Champion’s 2-0 lead. The result, though, was never really in doubt as La Furia Española, directed by Vicente del Bosque, showed off its international dominance once more against the South American champions.
The current hype surrounding German club football should not be taken lightly thoguh and Germany’s national team will still be heading into the World Cup next summer as a firm favorite to lift the trophy. Nor should it go unnoticed that Spain’s opponents on Sunday, played well bellow par and tougher tests will come in a Confederations Cup tournament that is being taken surprisingly seriously by its participants this year. But the message this summer is still a clear one, Spain have plenty more gas left in their tank on the international stage, and are breeding a talented crop of new players to take on the mantle and bring future success.
Germany is on the rise, but their new era of dominance, of the international game at least, might have to wait just a little longer before it can be granted the title of football’s ‘dominant force’.