Sunday, 30 June 2013

"When will it be Spain's time?"

"When will it be Spain's time?" A question that's response does not guarantee the same reaction.
LEFT: Xavi give me your shirt
CENTER: Iniesta give me your shirt
RIGHT: Pique, give me Shakira!

Last May I infamously boasted to friends or anyone who would listen a bold sports prediction (not uncommon for those that know me), "Spain's run of dominance on the soccer field is over, and Italy will beat them to win Euro 2012". I was sadly mistaken and would be on the verge of suffering an infamous letdown last 1st of July.

I had been led to believe that the Spanish stars "Casilas-Puyol-Xavi-Iniesta-Torres-Villa" were on the outs and the new Spaniard kids were not up to par.
Even after Spain had outclassed my Azzurri last summer, I still stood by my pre-tourney prediction, that, from then on, going forward "Spain's run of dominance, is over"
But just as recent as 11 days ago, I was taught a hard lesson. Spain's run of dominance on the soccer field is not over, and in most people's eyes has just begun.

I may not be as distraught as Azzurrini starlet Lorenzo Insigne was after the crushing 4-2 defeat to Spain in last week's Under 21 European Championship game, but my eyes are wide open to the awesome talents of Thiago, Isco, Morata, and all the other Spanish under 21 players.

SIDE NOTE: Not to take anything away from the 'piccoli Azzurrini' who were brilliant technically in the tournament, and were hard done by a bad call in the final. Italy's future is very bright. But if you’re a fan of this blog then you should know that already.

EXTRA SIDE NOTE: Even the under 20 Spain team is wreaking havoc in Turkey with the talents of Suso, Jese, Bernat, who have them poised as the favourites to win the 2013 U20 World Cup.
That dog was probably the only one in Italy happy to see Mario home early

With this new realization and the fact that Super Mario went home early, my excitement for the Azzurri's chances to win had evaporated by Thursday morning.
So when my mate from London Luke informed me we would be joining Goya nominated screenwriter Jorge LaPlace and his family & friends at Berry Park in Williamsburg for the game, I was hesitant.
Why? Because Jorge Laplace is a native of Sevilla, Spain (pronounced Se-vi-ja) and is a passionate football fan. Jorge's from Spain, not from a country that just speaks Spanish but actually from the country that has been the torment of my Azzuri since 2008. So if he is bringing family and friends, I'm sure they are all from Spain as well. Not the best scene for someone like me (if you know me, then you know I get really into Juve/Azzurri) games. So I decided against wearing a jersey, but wore an aqua blue outfit to hint at my support.

Upon arriving at the bar, Jorge introduced me to his family and friends as 'Alessandro', which marked the first time I didn't want people to get that I was Italian off of my name, but to no avail. I saw a look on their pleasant European faces, a look that meant today we wanted different outcomes.

I sat sipping my delicious SchOfferhofer Grapefruit Lager in its oddly shaped tall glass, while Giaccherini and Maggio captured my imagination with missed chances. I kept my emotions intact for respect to my new friends, but it had me asking myself "is today the day I witness the beginning of the end of Spain's dominance on the pitch?"

The 'back and forth' 'on your feet' action of the first half was replaced with a quiet and uneventful start to the second half. Which prompted a lot of conversation between me and my new Spaniard viewing buddies. In these conversations I started to learn that the same question I had been asking for the last year, "When will Spain's dominance on the field end?", was being asked by these Spaniards as well............... just worded differently.

Jorge introduced me to his father, who is a lifelong 'Madridsta' (Real Madrid Supporter). According to Jorge his father is very irrational to watch a 'Galacticos' game with, which instantly made me respect him, as many have said the same about me watching a 'Zebras' match. All one can do is admire someone for that same amount of passion for a football club.

Jorge and his friend Carmine explained to me that the reason the team they and all of their countrymen of his generation hate the most about Italy was because of an incident in USA '94 World Cup Quarter Final Match between the two nations. For me that World Cup was a bad memory for a more famous reason. But as Jorge and his friend made me realize that was just a part of many of Spain's international failures in the years between 1964-2008.

This made me realize that while over the last year I may have been asking when will it end, Jorge, his generation and especially his father were asking for a lot longer of a time, when will Spain's dominance on the soccer field begin?

Just before penalties began, the nerves were at an all-time high in Berry Park, and my emotions had started to show a little. Jorge turned to me and revealed why he was really disappointed if Spain were to fall to Italy in a dreaded penalty shoot-out.

Growing up all Jorge (and myself included) ever heard was that Brazil is the best and strongest Soccer nation; the international Power House. Now that Spain had two consecutive Euro Cups, and a World Cup under its belt, Jorge and all of Spain feel that this Confederations Cup (a trophy Spain has never won) this final battle with Brazil and arguably Spain's greatest starting XI, is the final test if this Spain team is as great as they all believe they are.

So how could I root against that? We had just seen a disastrous Italy vs. Brazil. Did I really want to see that again?

He did note that even though most people don't care about this cup, Spain wanted it. I want to argue though as to why people should care about this fairly new Trophy. It’s only been supported by FIFA since the 3rd edition in 97, this marking the 9th edition of the Confederations Cup; formerly known as the King's Cup. The concept for the tournament itself is great: A year before the World Cup, the host nation hosts the Champions of all the previous international soccer tournaments to try and make a 'Best of the Best' situation. All previous editions of this tourney never lived up to the billing, but I must say we have seen some great games so far (Italy v Japan, Brazil v Uruguay).

The penalties came and went, and although I knew Bonucci would miss the whole time, I am damn proud of my Azzurri for the effort they put in on Thursday. To go out that way is never easy.
Baggio part II?
Jorge and his family did not boast in my face after their victory, they shook my hand like respectful opponents. That is when I truly realized that Spain is a great soccer nation, and I should respect them and their soccer stars for playing the beautiful game.

They represent a lot more than just passing and attacking style that Brazil made famous in the 70s (Joga Bonita). This Spain team is one of the shortest teams in most tournaments they enter. This trumps a Canadian soccer philosophy that "size matters".

Also unlike Spain’s opponent today; Brazil they don't dive and look for the call as much as most other teams do in today's game. How can anyone not respect that? 

So I have figured out the answer to my question of "When will Spain's run of dominance End?" And the answer is not any time soon. The "Winning" mentality is now embedded in the Spanish culture as much as it is on their jersey. From the Under17 Spanish team to the Main guys, they are going to produce World Class soccer players for years to come, much to the delight of Jorge and co.

Also back on the Confederations Cup, unless you are someone living in Brazil and have no job, you cannot hate on this tournament. If not for this tournament we would not have a Canada Day special like today.
 Two of International Soccer's most prestigious teams Italy and Uruguay meet for the Bronze Medal at 12pm EST
And Since 1970 the teams that have dominated it the most meet for the first time in decades. Brazil hosting Spain in the Confederations Cup Final at 530pm EST.
Should be an epic day of Football.

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