Friday, June 27, 2008

Spain Beats Russia - Advances to Euro2008 Finals

The Spanish national soccer team defeated Russia yesterday 3-0 on a rain-soaked field in Vienna to advance to the 2008 European championship match against Germany.

George Vecesy, in his New York Times article this morning, "Dashing Spain Transcends Its Anguish," explains what the victory means to Spain in context of their longstanding failure in major competitions:

This is something that has not happened in 24 years, most of them frustrating. Spain’s national team — La Selección — has disappointed so often, so graphically, so diversely. But on Thursday came the biggest win in a generation.

All the homegrown talent that is the backbone of La Liga, one of the toughest national leagues in the world, came through in the rain in Vienna. The Spaniards wore down Russia, 3-0, in the semifinals of Euro 2008, with their skill and experience topping the Russians’ earlier exuberance.

This is no small victory for Spain to qualify for Sunday’s championship match against Germany in Vienna. It will be the first final for a Spanish team in a world-level tournament since Spain lost to France in Euro 1984.

In between there have been so many losses way too early in tournaments, often under bizarre circumstances, that made Spanish fans ask exactly why their teams cannot live up to expectations, why their fancy players fold under pressure, why terrible things happen to them.

World soccer fans often get a little crazy when an American like me compares an international situation to our own little local sports. But the best way to describe Spain in American terms is to say that sometimes a hand comes out of nowhere to deflect a ball, the way it happened to the Chicago Cubs in the postseason in 2003. The Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908, and Spain has not won a major tournament since Euro 1964, when it beat the Soviet Union, the spiritual ancestors of Thursday’s losing side.

In between, La Selección has managed to disappoint. Things just happen, and a nation falls silent. I was in Spain in 1982 when La Selección lost. People were indoors watching television — and they never came back out that evening, not even for the traditional stroll or the late dinner. Everything just shut down.

Demonstrably the luck is changing, ever since Spain survived 120 scoreless minutes against its chosen nemesis, Italy, in the quarterfinals of this tournament, and Iker Casillas made enough key saves for the shootout victory.

On Thursday, the Spaniards displayed the meshed talent that has often gone missing in crucial matches. They showed individual flashes in the first half, wearing down the Russians, coached by Guus Hiddink, the Dutch master. In the second half, Luis Aragonés’s squad produced crisp outlet passes, dashing crosses, alert strikes and bing-bing-bing goals by Xavi Hernández in the 50th minute, by Daniel Güiza in the 73rd and by David Silva in the 82nd.

Now La Selección meets Germany, whose defense is more experienced, more purposeful, than the Russian defense. But if Spain can run that offense as it did in the second half on Thursday, then this could truly be La Selección’s year, or even its generation.

Unfortunately, Spain's leading striker, David Villa, the top scorer in the tournament, will miss the finals after a hamstring injury against Russia. On the plus side, the Spanish team has an excellent bench, as they proved yesterday, when two of their three goals were scored by second-half substitutes.

Spain vs. Germany will be broadcast live on ABC this Sunday afternoon, 2:30 pm EST.


Jeff said...

This is pretty cool. Is it too right-wing, to "Cara al Sol" to say...

¡Arriba España!

How about...

¡Vamos España!

I hope they beat those smart-assed Germans

pbwiener said...

If they play anything like they did Thursday, they will be unbeatable. I may bet on the game!