Tonight, one of the greatest fortnights in Spanish sport could begin. The national football team plays their vital quarter-final against the French tonight, hoping to end Euro 2012 with their 3rd successive international tournament triumph, Fernando Alonso goes for the win in the second F1 Grand Prix of the season to take place in his homeland, with the European GP in Valencia tomorrow and Rafael Nadal will hope to regain his title from arch-rival Novak Djokovic. They’ve not done too bad in recent years with the stars mentioned all performing with tournament wins, race victories and grand slams, however, with more serious competition in their respective sports, can they cope?
Starting with the football team, regularly hailed as the ‘best national football team ever’, Spain have been a class above the rest over the last few years or so. Xavi, Iniesta, Pique, Cesc and the injured Puyol have been the basis of two of the greatest sides of the past decade, if not ever, whereas Casillas, Ramos and Xabi Alonso have finally found success this very year, with Jose Mourinho finally leading his charges to the La Liga title. Adding in the talents of Jordi Alba, David Silva and substitutes like Jesus Navas, Fernando Llorente and the talented, if not always there, Fernando Torres and Spain have a side oozing with quality. The last Euros saw the long-stated tag of under-acheivers disparate, with victory in Vienna against the Germans, followed closely by defeating the same opponents in the semi’s of the World Cup and then Holland in the final. They have experience of winning for club and country, and their style of play brings them plaudits from journalists, fans and fellow pros alike. However, signs of change are on the horizon.
The aforementioned ‘tika-taka’ style of football has been unmatchable, until this year. The Champions League has seen Barcelona and their famed style of possession-based play knocked out by the resilient back 10 of Chelsea, resulting in the best piece of commentary I’ve ever heard! In all seriousness, the way in which Barca were restricted and held back by Chelsea gives off worrying signs that we could see a replication of that this summer. This would certainly have been the case had they been playing England tonight instead of France, but it may still be the case, Laurent Blanc may have taken notice of the effective case the dour, ‘park the bus’ style carries with it. Even Madrid were knocked out in the semi’s, a setback to the recent growth of Spanish football, and it becoming the best league in the world.
Then we have the resurgent Germans. Since the double failings of the last two tournaments to the Spanish, Germany have kicked on and now have a squad to match, if not exceed their rivals. Just last night, they rested their attacking trident, yet still cruised to a 4-2 win over Greece. In a quarter-final. They have a set formation, with jobs that each player knows exactly how to perform, the presence of Mesut Ozil as the side’s playmaker is almost Iniesta-like, and they have something Spain can only dream of in the massive centre-forward Mario Gomez. However, what they don’t have is that vital winning experience. 12 of the 23 in the squad are under the age of 23,a ripe age in international football, and a definite risk from boss Joachim Loew. Spain have winners AND experience, a vital mixture that could perhaps prove them to be the victors once again.
Spain and Germany are on collision course for the final next Sunday, and you can bet if we see that final, it will be one of the most highly-charged game in years!
To F1, and Fernando Alonso has been the star man of the 2012 season. Currently sandwiched in-between current championship leader Lewis Hamilton and reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel, Alonso has carried his Ferrari team almost singlehandedly, taking a car that was 1.5-2 seconds off the pace at the start of the season, and making it a credible title contender. Of course, the state of this year, that literally ANYONE can win a race, has helped his case, with no one team seemingly able to grasp how the tricky Pirelli tyres behave. Alonso’s talent has seen him drive from 9th to win the Malaysian Grand Prix, and since then a clutch of podiums and consistent points has seen him stay within 10 points of the leader, and he is currently only 2 off Hamilton.
His technical skill with such poor tools can be seen in Ferrari’s points total, with Alonso picking up 86 of the overall 97 points, with Felipe Massa not being up-to-pace, scraping the barrel with only 11. Alonso arrives at his second home GP, on the back of a closely fought race back in Canada, with the Spaniard’s tyres ultimately dying, seeing him go from 1st to 5th in a matter of 10 or so laps. After narrowly missing out back in Barcelona to first-time winner Pastor Maldonado, he’ll want to rectify mistakes made by the team on tyre choices and deliver something for the home crowd to savour on race-day. Vettel looks revitalised after a slow start to season, and he’ll be looking to return to the dominance of last season, which saw him sew up the title around now! Lewis Hamilton looks raring to go, full of confidence, which he so rarely had last season, teammate Jenson Button will want to step it up and return to the form he showed at the back end of last season, whilst the Lotus’ and Mercedes’ should never be ruled out. Alonso and Ferrari will have lots of competition, 8 winners in 8 races says it all, but with the right set-up, and a bit of luck he could well become the first man of the season to win 2 races!
It’s Wimbledon time. Pimms and strawberries and cream and all that. Murraymania shall begin should he win one or two matches, he’ll be ‘British’ for a week, then revert back to ‘Scottish’ when he inevitably fails. Then there’s Federer, the ex-king of the grass, 6-time winner, but a relative veteran at the age of only 30. With a massive 74 career titles, he really should not be ruled out though. Then we have the Serb Novak Djokovic, the latest hotshot. He looked achingly similar to Murray, the nearly man, on the coattails of Rafa and Federer, but then came 2011. It began with the Australian Open, stayed unbeaten (for a whopping 43 matches) till the semi’s of the French and ended with 10 titles, Wimbledon and the US Open among them. It marked out Djokovic as the ONE to beat, he has held the number 1 spot for just under a year, emphasising his dominance and continuing success with this years Aussie Open.
And finally, we reach Rafael Nadal. The man who gradually broke down Federer’s grip on world tennis, creating his own French Open dynasty with 7 titles, and breaking the Swiss on his hallowed Wimbledon turf. We looked in for an era of Rafa domination, until the arrival of Djokovic. Since then, we’ve seen numerous epics between the two, never managing to beat the 2008, just-under-5-hour battle, but it certainly has the potential. Just a few weeks ago, Nadal showed a revival, defeating the Serb on his own clay court home, a sign that things are swinging back towards the Spaniard? Things will certainly even out at Wimbledon, with it being both men’s secondary favourite courts (Novak’s is the hard court, as seen at the Aussie and US Open’s). Rafa also seems to have shaken off a troublesome knee injury that has restricted him the last couple of Wimbledon’s. He’ll be raring to give it his all, amongst such a talented bunch of professionals, which will probably culminate in another final to savour, of which the winner will certainly have earned the win!
So, they’ve got it all to do, rivals have been rising, giving them competition. They all have one key thing alongside their individual skills: experience of winning, knowing what it feels like to win a title, a race or a grand slam, they’ll be determined to continue this over the next few weeks, whilst revitalising their financially struggling nation simultaneously.