Sometimes I feel a bit guilty about not liking the German team. It's not that I feel any antipathy towards them, as such, it's just...I just don't want them to win.
They're an easy target, really: the team that always seems to get that jammy goal, that's always lodged comfortably above the Southgate Parallel of international football no matter how bad they apparently are. At every major tournament this decade, we've been told that this is the worst German team for a generation*, yet in that time they have reached a World Cup final and semi-final, and are potentially one game away from being European champions; all this while the (sniggers) Golden Generations of certain other nations act like a flock of geese with their natural sense of direction degraded through generations of inbreeding, knowing vaguely what they must do to make it to their destination but instead crashing haplessly into one another and falling to the ground, honking incessantly at the injustice of it all.
Deep down, I know it's a quality to be admired: to be able to so tenaciously keep a vice-like grip on the leg of football fate with those terrier-like jaws of theirs. If it was, oh, let's say, Turkey, we'd be celebrating their plucky, never-say-die doggedness and rushing out to buy a replica shirt to wear in solidarity with these fine human beings as we sit in front of the TV this evening.
But we're not. Why? Perhaps every sport needs its big, bad, but very dour wolf to make the story complete: the NBA has its San Antonio Spurs, the Tour de France had its Big Mig, the Bundesliga has its Bayern Munich. Even the goodwill earned in defying the stereotypes in the last World Cup in breathtakingly forthright style, and playing a part in two of the finest game of the championships (vs. Argentina and Italy), has evaporated over the course of Euro 2008, what with their set-piece goals and their incompetent midfield and their average height: 6'9". It may be an unreasonable and immature view, but (here comes the excuse) this is sport we're talking about; if you can't sometimes be unreasonable and immature about sport, when can you be?
Okay, allow me to put forward a more thoughtful reason for my wanting Spain to win tonight: it would be a tear in the fabric of history, a disturbance in the world's natural order. Or, more prosaically, a novelty. The prospect of something happening that you've never seen before is mightily alluring. Growing up in an era when Germany left their efficient fingerprints** all over the international scene has rendered the prospect of more of the same unappealing. If there was anything to be taken from Greece's triumph in 2004, it was the shock of the new, the feeling that we were seeing something we weren't really allowed to. So often Spain have entertained us before being bumped off before the end of the film. Let's have the plot re-written before our eyes instead.
Ah yes. Spain. Nearly forgot to mention them, as I wallowed in this mudpool of negativity. As we've spent the last few weeks slobbering over Holland and Russia, Spain's contribution to the Euros is in danger of going under-appreciated. Admittedly, it has been a bit difficult at times to get as excited about them as we, pre-tournament, imagined we would do. It didn't seem right that this team, with their astounding collection of world-class ball-playing midfielders, were winning games through their counter-attack (the winner against Sweden came via Route 1 - ye gods!). And they didn't exactly thrill us against Italy. A few points to be made here, though. I forgive them (and I'm sure they've been begging for my forgiveness) for the Italy game. Italy didn't exactly come out to play, as they executed a malfunctioning version of catenaccio, the swift counter-attack being replaced by the Emile Heskey method. Also, the relative tentativeness of Spain can be excused by what must have been a hefty historical weight on their shoulders: the awareness of their usual Pavlovian response to facing a big team in a knockout game, and the little factoid about not having beaten Italy since that da Vinci chap made his debut in goals.
But more importantly, how good were they against Russia? The thing is, we've been blinded by our disastrous rendez-vous with Russia that we haven't properly appreciated how well Spain played, how Spanish they looked. Not co-incidentally, this was especially so after Fabregas' entrance, which is why I'm particularly hopeful about tonight (unless Aragonés is really as contrary as he seems and goes and picks Alonso instead). It appears not to have had the same romantic cachet as Russia's win against Holland, but it was almost (I say almost) as impressive.
(Wouldn't you love to see Cesc's reaction after he scores the winner tonight? Remember how he looked when he scored the penalty against Italy?
Look at him. Bless.)
Another good reason to want Spain to win: I'd rather see a group of little players...I mean, players with low centre of gravity, triumph over a bunch of shooting guards who got lost on the way to the NBA Draft Camp.
And wouldn't it be something if Michael Ballack achieved that unprecedented double-quadruple, finishing second in four different competitions in the same season for the second time? I don't especially dislike him, it just reminds me of Chelsea's trophyless season. Unreasonable and immature, see?
Photo by europeanartphoto on flickr
*Admittedly, the only time I've heard this said this time around was from the mouth of Éamonn Dunphy at half-time in Wednesday's semi-final, so its currency is automatically devalued right there.
**Actually, the next 'expert' who uses the word 'efficient' to describe this team will get a sternly-worded letter of rebuke from me post haste. If that Rolfes fella is efficient, then I'm the most efficient player in the world.