I have to admit I succumbed to the hype of Euro 2012. I was excited to watch soccer every day, to watch some of the best teams and the best players on earth. But the tournament has, overall, been a disappointment. Let's admit it: too many of the games that were, on paper, decent match-ups, have been colossal bores. Starting with Germany-Portugal and continuing through to Portugal-Spain today, the games have been low-scoring (lowest since euro 96 overall), defensive-minded, and lacking general excitement. Even a game like Italy-England, which, to be fair, actually had quite a bit of attacking play and lots of chances (mostly for Italy), ended up with no goals at all. For me it's another sign that football, as a game, simply cries out for more goals. It's becoming a game of who can hold on to slim leads, rather than a game of who can attack the most and create the most chances. In all the rule changes I've suggested over the years for soccer, of course, I've never written about the most obvious, most consequential, and least likely to change in the near future: make the goals bigger. But that's for another time.
As for yesterday's semifinal, a few comments. First, Portugal did, in truth, defend brilliantly through the 90 minutes. Spain certainly were not at their best, and seemed to lack a lot of energy, but even a weak Spain team usually dominates possession and creates a lot more than they did. And people tend to look back (as I've mentioned before) when a team gets a clean sheet and claim that they defended well even if they just, in fact, got lucky, but in this case it was no meager stroke of luck. Portugal did what no team in the tournament had done thus far: they defended high up the pitch and denied Spain's defenders time to play the ball out. Teams have tried this against Barcelona, most notably Man. Utd in the 2009 champions league final, or Madrid in various Clasicos, but it usually doesn't work because if you apply high pressure to such a skilled team, you're vulnerable to quick attacks when the team breaks that pressure. But Spain were unable to do that, lacking, most notably, someone quick to run at defenders through midfield. They don't have a Messi, and until late in the game, they didn't even have a Pedro. Iniesta can usually take up this role, but he was unusually subdued.
With that in mind, Del Bosque would be crazy not to start Pedro in the final instead of Negredo. He may not have as much of an impact as a starter as he does coming on in the 70th minute, but he's been excellent both times he's played, and was by far Spain's biggest threat today when he came on (along with Navas), giving them a huge edge in extra time. The 90 minutes, and especially the second half, were pretty woeful for Spain on the whole. Pedro and, to a lesser extent, the other two substitutes, really changed that.
Let's hope Germany and Italy both play as well today as they did in their quarterfinals. Could be a great match, or at least, a decent one. If either team performs well, they should go into the final with real confidence against shaky Spain, and make it a competitive final. It'd be nice to end the tournament well!