Spain gives everyone hope – except England
LONDON – There have been no street parades or national days of celebration, but in the soccer communities of England and Holland, there has been a general air of contentment the past few days.
Perhaps it should be no surprise that Spain's victory at Euro 2008 has been greeted enthusiastically even in rival countries. After all, its performance throughout the event was one of the most impressive displays of open, attacking football that has been seen in a major tournament for years. Furthermore, England's and Holland's timeless rivalry with beaten finalists Germany meant there was only going to be one favored team in last Sunday's showdown in Vienna.
But what is odd – extremely so – is that the Spaniards' triumph is somehow seen as an encouraging sign for their own national team's hope of ending their wait for major honors.
At least Holland, with the 1988 European title and a string of near misses on its resume, has some foundation for optimism following Euro 2008. Marco van Basten's team was outstanding in the Group of Death and looked like potential champions until its tepid display and the brilliance of Andrei Arshavin led to defeat against Russia.
And if Spain's success is the start of a trend that rewards positive, offensive-minded play, then the Dutch could be future beneficiaries.
But England? Really?
England did not even set foot in Austria and Switzerland for the European Championship, their hopes of qualification having ended in the Wembley Stadium rain with a miserable defeat to Croatia in November.
In reality, the team has rarely been further away from major success. New head coach Fabio Capello faces a huge task to reinvigorate a squad of players empty of inspiration. However, that hasn't stopped some delusional – sorry, optimistic – souls using convoluted and contorted logic to deduce that the events of last month somehow point to an English triumph at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Some of it is steeped in superstition. Spain's last major tournament win before its big night last Sunday came in 1964, 44 years ago. By the time 2010 comes around it will be, you guessed it, 44 years since England's sole major triumph in the 1966 World Cup – on home soil.
It is laughable and ludicrous, but so many people who would normally appear to be of sound mind believe it, to the point that you almost start to second-guess yourself.
How can so many people use a numerological coincidence to convince themselves that a team not good enough to stand among Europe's 16 best sides can transform into the best in the world within two years? Their theory is that because it happened to someone else, it will happen to England. Sorry folks, but it will take a bit more than that.
The Spaniards' victory was due to some simple truths. They had the best players in the tournament and displayed the best teamwork. And, in Luis Aragones, they had a coach who, whatever you think about his character traits, was tactically perfect during the tournament.
Likewise – four years earlier – there was a reason why Greece won. It wasn't written in the stars. It was because no team found a suitable answer to the Greeks' ruggedly defensive and organized approach, boring and ugly as it was.
England's optimism is to be commended. Its arrogance is not.
And it is arrogance of this kind that has held England teams back for years. The English public knows no middle ground. The phrase "You're only as good as your last performance" has never been so apt. Depending on its most recent display, England is either seen as world-beaters or useless. Almost always, the truth lies somewhere in the gray area in between.
I am English and I love my country. If I am ever fortunate enough to be present at a major final where England is victorious, I will find it hard not to scream my head off and will probably have to wipe some tears of joy from my laptop's keyboard before writing my report and trying to remain impartial.
But Spain's win doesn't mean England's time is coming. England doesn't deserve success just because it's England. That time may never come again unless the arrogance and superstition and nonsense is swept away and replaced by a dose of realism.
There is only one country that has a right to feel optimistic about the result of the Euro 2008 final, and that's Spain.