To say Spain are boring is a great disservice. As Germany icon Jurgen Klinsmann pointed out on Friday, the reigning world and European champions could well be the “team of the century.” High praise to be sure, and not at all undeserved.
But are Spain loved? Are they compelling to the majority of football fans who will watch Sunday’s final without a rooting interest? Probably not, and therein lies their only shortcoming.
Spain are, without question, the team of the generation. They are good—so good that they ease through matches like robots following a programmed pattern. But robots don’t excite; they don’t inspire emotion, especially when they exhibit none of their own.
Italy are the complete opposite. They are the antithesis to the Spanish school of football where perfection is the one and only lesson. But perfection is boring. Italy aren’t perfect—not nearly—and they’re nothing close to boring, either.
Italy are emotive. They are Balotelli smashing a shot from 18 yards that he might have dribbled and caressed into the net; they are Cassano bullishly spinning off his marker and playing a perfect pass across the face of goal; they are the artistry of Pirlo and the bold, often boastful, prophecies of Buffon.
None of this makes Italy a winner, just as perfect football doesn’t make Spain a loser. But it does create a gripping match-up—one where the stereotypes of decades past have absolutely no meaning.
Spain are faultless and confident; Italy are arousing and unpredictable. Game on.
Five things you should know about the Euro 2012 final:
1) Spain’s last normal-time win over Italy was in March 2008. The one before that came in the quarterfinals at USA ’94. They also prevailed on penalties in the quarterfinals at Euro 2008.
2) Mario Balotelli has three goals coming into Sunday’s final—more than any other Italian player has ever scored at a single European Championship.
3) Spain have never lost when Fernando Torres has scored. The Chelsea striker has bagged 30 goals for his country and the reigning world and European champions are an incredible 21-1-0 when he has found the back of the net. The one draw—against Italy in 2004 the night Torres scored his first goal for his country.
4) Xavi Hernandez has attempted 533 passes at Euro 2012—more than any other player in the tournament. He has completed 455 of them for a success rate of 85 per cent. Seven of the top 10 passers at the competition are Spanish (Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, Sergio Ramos, Andres Iniesta, Alvaro Arbeloa). Andrea Pirlo (3rd), Bastian Schweinsteiger (5th) and Philipp Lahm (8th) make up the numbers.
5) No international side has ever won three major tournaments in a row with a World Cup title as part of the hat-trick. West Germany came close in 1976 as the reigning world and European champions but were defeated on penalties by Czechoslovakia thanks to a cheeky Antonin Panenka chip that was recently replicated by Pirlo against England.
Follow Jerrad Peters on Twitter @peterssoccer