Everyone I know in Spain who is vaguely interested in football was hyped up for the Italy confrontation. Everybody was nervous. After all, earlier in the tournament these two teams had played to a 0-0 tie. But since then Italy had begun to roar, crushing many formidable opponents, including Germany who they beat 2-0 to reach the final at Kiev.
Here in the Canary Islands, folks wanted to see our local boys, David Silva (Gran Canaria) and Pedro (Tenerife), to score. In fact, both had been very close to the goal throughout the tourney. Silva had made one of the best shots early on.
The Spanish squad had been criticized for not being bold, for being "too clean" as if this somehow hinted at timidity. They were also using the Barça technique of lots of short passes and clever ball control. But although you could do a lot worse than "play clean" , it is true that Spain was not scoring very much. So I kept hoping Spain would get the ball in the Italian net early on to put their rivals off step. "Maybe Silva can do it!" I wished upon star.
Well, just 14 minutes from the starting whistle, David Silva (photo attached) headed a goal in that answered my silent prayer. This also inspired Jordi Alba and Xavi Hernández to follow with another snake charmer miracle goal that left Buffon (the famed Italian goalie with the unfortunate monniker!) on his rump in dismay.
It was a great game, both sides fought and struggled every minute of the way. The nicest accolade I could offer the Italian players is that they did not really lose the match, Spain just won big time. The verb that I would share with my students would be "swarm": Spanish red shirts were everywhere all the time. No matter where the cameras scanned the pitch, the red shirts were there. Spain's super goalkeeper Iker Casillas, who make a couple of incredible saves, could kick the ball into outer space in any direction of the great green field, he was sure that a swarm of red shirts would be there.
Italy's big hero Balotelli (who plays with David Silva for Manchester City) was so disgusted at the end of the game that he stormed off without the handshake that marks postgame tradition. He had a right to be unnerved, Sergio Ramos and the red shirt brigade had kept him in check throughout. It was clean, indeed, but he could hardly move.
Indeed, the greatest summary of the championship came from their wonderful old coach Del Bosque who reckoned Spain had played their style and dominated the match on their own terms. In that sense, Italy played wonderfully too, but they were playing along to Spain's rules.
I have been pleased to have so many Spanish friends and neighbors of ours, work colleagues and total strangers, take the time to teach me about soccer. Although basketball is still my favorite sport, I now appreciate the soccer craze that consumes so many people here.