Spain 2 – France 0: La Roja Neurotica blinded by the Triplete

(By Paul Morrissey – follow on Twitter here.)

La Roja Neurotica blinded by the Triplete

No Hay Dos Sin Tres. You can’t have two without three; that’s the message being propagated all over Spain through the medium of a cheesy pop track. Technically, it doesn’t mean anything, and can easily be disproved as a theorem, but it’s clearly had an effect on La Roja: it’s scared the shit out of them.

Three games from the Holy Grail of the Triplete, La Roja are unrecognisable from the swashbuckling group of caballeros who wheeled away in mad celebration at every goal in South Africa, unleashing sheer joy every time.

The spectre of the Triplete has stripped them of emotion, rendered them entirely mission-oriented. Up until the strangenesss of last night’s match, I’d been totally bemused at the criticism of this La Roja side; and while admiration is still the overriding feeling, last night’s quarter final finally disabused me of wanton tub-thumping.

Because last night’s timorous performance proved one thing, one thing that the players seem stubbornly intent on hanging on to, however vague the evidence: it’s no longer beautiful. They’re a bit like the ex top model re-mortgaging her home for botox injections, in a desperate attempt to hang on to the beauty of youth. But as Dorian Gray discovered to his cost, nothing is eternal, beauty included.

The ‘Barcelona Minus Messi’ claims no longer stand up; if an unhealthy possession obsession links the two, the use of that possession is entirely different. Barcelona get the ball into that No Man’s Land between midfield and the last line of defence and bully the opposition into submission; Xavi and Iniesta get them on the carousel in their private games of Rondos. Barcelona play with adrenalin junkie wing-backs, who get their kicks out of mocking their opposing numbers for merely defending. Barcelona play with a Sweeper-Keeper; Casillas braces himself for one save a match and then spends the rest of his time adjusting his bags.

Barcelona play with a false 9; Spain play with a box-to-box midfielder who is not even a number 10, let alone an auxiliary striker. Fabregas is a midfielder with excellent llegada (arrival), but the role demands more than that. He’s a midfielder who can get on the end of things. If only there were something to get on the end of.

La Roja Mecanica

Their play has become so sated of joy, so controlled, so programmed, as to nullify any piece of soloist brilliance getting you out of your seat provoking childish glee.

It’s lacking in that sprinkle of pixie dust, that spontaneous magic that incites unanimity among all and sundry.

That vivacity that characterised the ’08 and ’10 teams has given way to a hardened group of robotised champions who’ve lost all innocence.

Victory no longer incites any joy; it’s just what you do. You win, therefore you are. The fantasy has been lost.

Pedrito is about the closest thing they have to a fantantista, and he showed it with that impish little stepover to win the penalty. But he’ll never get into the first XI; he’ll never get that recognition his mercurial quality deserves.

Maybe because his name is literally ‘Peter’. Or maybe because he has the cut of a Libyan rebel.

Whatever the reason, emotional, extreme players like himself and Jesus ‘The Cat’ Navas are destined to play only fleeting parts in this Spanish team, as the currency of possession holds sway. The ‘doble pivote’ of Bus-Alonso, a pair who at times resemble a pair of ladies netballers with their insistence on timid backward passing, are Del Bosque socios.With them in the team, you don’t improve your chances of pro-actively winning, but you greatly improve your chances of not losing.

They’ll go on refuting the ‘boring’ criticism, insisting that they’ll never renounce their style or philosophy. But they already have; they did that when they brought three strikers all the way to Polkraine to carry the cones and cut the oranges.

”We played a serious game. The philosophy is non-negociable, And we’re in the semi-finals.” (Xavi)

There’s no arguing with that, and the source of the goals, coming as they did from the most dutiful, dull individual in the squad, was symbolic of this. But there’s no rules against having a bit of fun along the way. That irrational, passionate impulsion that allowed Brazil to express themselves in ther 1970 final with the game already won, has no place in Spain’s mission.

That essence was lost somewhere along the way on their relentless pursuit of an historic Triplete. Well they may continue claiming it as ‘futbol-arte’, in reality it’s morphed into a lifeless Futebol do Resultado.

La Roja might well win this Eurocopa, but let’s hope they remember the why before it’s all over.