Spain’s Euro triumph four years ago altered many long-dated notions about European football. Like the pre-eminence of the physical prowess. But a 170-cms man Xavi Hernandez told us otherwise.
It was in this tournament Xavi, the key figure in Spain’s rise to the top, came to the limelight with his slick passing and outrageous scheming. The Barca midfielder read the game well to outsmart his strong opponents and handed the team their first major title in 44 years. Not to discount the efforts of David Villa and Fernando Torres among others, Xavi was named Player of the Tournament. Even with their great start in the tournament, not many thought they would ultimately lift the title and bust the ‘underachiever’s tag’. Europe’s best conquered the world two years later in South Africa.
Meanwhile, Germany, the other finalist in the Euro 2008, were also placed as one of the favourites for the title, but just couldn’t hurdle the Spain barrier. Things aren’t different th
is time round as the three-time winners of Euro title are tipped favourites.
Spain had a strong presence of Barcelona contingent in their squad when they scaled heights in football in the recent past. Likewise, Germany too hinges on Bayern Munich in search of a major title, which is eluding them since the Euro 1996 triumph. The trend started in the German squad back in 1974, when their national squad, comprising six Bayern players emerged victorious in the World Cup. They followed the tendency since then and the move was justifiable more often than not.
Bayern Munich is easily one of the best clubs in the world and their class is still undoubted but a second-place finish in the league behind Borussia Dortmund for the second time in a row would lead to some kind of mental block among the players. After reaching the final of the European competition this year, they faltered against Chelsea even after dominating the ball possession for the major part of the game. Out of 23 players, nine from the Bavarians, following the tradition, made the cut this time. The big question is how the German side can escape the losing vibes from the stars representing the Bayern side, which contributed with the majority of players. The Bayern party includes Manuel Neuer, Holger Badstuber, Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Mueller, Mario Gomez, Toni Kroos and Jerome Boateng.
German national coach Joachim Loew too was concerned how the German giants would fare against Chelsea in the Champions League final on May 27 as he knew that a failure could badly impact the morale of the national team going into the big tournament. "The disappointment would be huge, it would take time to get it out of the heads of the players,” he said ahead of the match.
Similarly, their Spanish counterparts also bank on the Catalan giants. They are essentially Barca minus Lionel Messi. The Argentine too would have been part of the World Cup winning squad had he accepted the offer to play for the Spanish national U-20 team in 2004. The fact that most of the players grew up in the Barcelona youth academy helped them immensely on the field. Their playmaker Xavi has spent his entire 15-year career in Barcelona. However, the 2011–12 season ended with Barça unable to defend their La Liga and Champions League titles, which will put the Spanish team exactly in a position where the Germans found themselves in.
The World number 1-ranked team is further handicapped by the absence of David Villa, the leading scorer in the previous edition, and Carles Puyol when they start their title defence from June 8.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)