Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Sangria & Sangria

Spain 4-0 Ukraine

Spain. The perennial under-achievers. For years and years, they have flattered to decieve. Often packed with as many start players as the other top nations, they alone have been consistent in their inability to get to grips with the concept of international football tournaments. True enough, they reached the 1984 European Championship final (where a hideous mistake by goalkeeper Luis Arconada helped them to defeat against Spain), but consider this: since then, England, France, Italy, Sweden, Bulgaria, Holland, Germany, Belgium, Turkey & Croatia have all made at least the semi-finals of the World Cup. It throws Spain's lack of success into sharp focus.

In the run-up to the tournament, the big question was this: would Aragones have the cojones to drop Raul? It turns out that he did, and the gamble paid off. The forward pairing of Garcia & Villa ran the Ukrainian defence ragged, and the extra bonus was that when Raul did come on in the second half, he put in his best performance in a Spanish shirt for a long time. Most encouraging of all (and not just because he's in my Fantasy World Cup team) was an encouraging debut made by Puyol. The defender became more courageous as the game went on, coming forward and eventually laying on the pass for the fourth goal.

It's not difficult to feel sorry for Ukraine. The penalty for the third goal was debatable, the subsequent sending off even more so. Add in the enormous deflection on the free-kick for the second goal, and the scoreline was flattering to the Iberians. Shevchenko had no support up front, and poor old Sergei Rebrov, when he came on, seemed to confirm all of the rumours about his mental health - he came on, blasted one shot twenty yards over, and spent the rest of his time wandering round in a daze for a quarter of an hour. Shevchenko, one of the best strikers in Europe of the last ten years, deserves better.

For Spain, the chance is there. They surely can't fail to qualify from their group now, and if they can get past the psychological barrier that seems to have hamstrung them for the last few decades or so, well... why not? Why shouldn't they go all the way?


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