On Sunday the Spanish national soccer team won its third European Championship, beating Italy 4-0 in a brilliant, serenely played match, dominated at every moment by Spain’s truly magical midfielders. This is not only the best generation of footballers in Spain but probably the best in Europe, as far back as the historical memory of competition soccer extends. The facts back up this high-flying assertion. Spain has consecutively won Euro 2008, the World Cup in 2010 and now, again, the European crown. This is a succession of victories that no other national team had previously achieved, either in Europe or in Latin America. Many of the players who on Sunday triumphed in Kiev will play again at the Brazil World Cup in 2014.
Spain’s performance has been consistently amazing in the final stages of the championship, with a very high, almost operatic, style of play in terms of talent, precision and serenity, the like of which had not been seen since the Brazil team of 1970. The Spanish national team, managed with calm common sense and astounding efficacy by the coach Vicente del Bosque, has succeeded in revolutionizing the very standards of world soccer. All other teams are now trying to imitate the Spanish style of play, which has combined brilliant offensive talent with the most effective defense in recent championship soccer.
But there is more to be said than just technical soccer talk. The triumphs of Spain’s team offer indirect, if ephemeral, relief from the destructive effects of recession and unemployment. Soccer prowess is no substitute for good political management and prosperity, but it can give a welcome injection of self-esteem in difficult moments.
There are plenty of reasons for such self-esteem. The Spanish team has combined the world’s most brilliant soccer with scrupulously correct behavior on and off the field: fair play and exquisite respect for the adversary. This is not just a matter of professional talent. The Spanish players have behaved as paragons of true sporting spirit. It is significant that the rivalry, bitter on occasions, between the two major teams that dominate the Spanish Liga has been diluted when they operate in full collaboration within the national team. This has also been the case with regional nationalist tensions, apparent in the political ambit, but non-existent in the national team.
The Spanish victory calls for public recognition for the players (the handshakes with the defeated Italians were a moving gesture), for the coach (Vicente del Bosque) and for the technical support team which has conjugated the talents, egos and exceptional abilities of the players. And for all the levels of Spanish soccer: without youth teams managed by patient, judicious coaches, there would be no such victories.
But it must not be forgotten that Spanish soccer has a few pending problems that need to be resolved. The chief of these is an economic bubble that is pushing costs far above the level of potential income. Humility is the best trait to copy in this Spain team.