James Lawton: Spain may shoot themselves in foot at Euro 2012 as passing game turns in on itself

Winning football cannot for ever be sustained by art for its own sake

Still the rhapsodies play on for Spain, still the TV analysts – including the hard-bitten Roy Keane – drool like kids in a toy shop. It is a beautiful ideal, of course, technical brilliance applied to the task of passing all opposition into a daze as they move towards the unprecedented goal of three successive major championship titles.

Of course, La Roja still play on the side of the angels, still show us fabulous accomplishment as one crescendo of tiki-taka follows another. But then there also has to be a growing sense that if Spain are on the point of making history, it is with a game turning in on itself, one that increasingly looks as if it is celebrating an aspect of the game – relentless possession and passing – for its own sake.

The statistics here, as they did in the World Cup two years ago, continue to show a huge imbalance between Spain's control of the ball and their ability to inflict killing damage.

Against a profoundly disappointing – almost passive – France on Saturday night, Spain required a late penalty from Xabi Alonso to wipe away the possibility of some late eruption from someone like Franck Ribéry or Karim Benzema. It was even more perilous against Italy in a 1-1 draw, and Croatia set many problems as they threatened the Spanish route to the quarter-finals. Only the utterly outclassed Republic of Ireland felt a touch of matador steel.

Now the Spanish coach Vicente del Bosque has to worry about the potential of Cristiano Ronaldo to do to Spain what he did to Barça in La Liga in Wednesday's semi-final.

Most of all, though, he has to be concerned about the German juggernaut which cuffed aside Greece in the opening quarter-final despite coach Joachim Löw's decision to rest some key players.

Spain beat Germany in a World Cup semi-final in Durban two years ago but that was a younger, less confident Germany – even though they had eviscerated England and Argentina in their two previous games. It is also true that it wasn't some exquisite creation which brought Spain's solitary goal. It was a late lunge at a corner-kick from Xavi by the old warrior Carles Puyol.

A Spain-Germany final here next Sunday is still the dream of this tournament which in many ways has exceeded expectations. But it is also one which some suspect will be the opportunity of such as Mesut Ozil, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Müller and Mario Gomez to show that winning football cannot for ever be sustained by art for its own sake.

In some ways we have not moved on from the World Cup final in Johannesburg, when Spain beat a Netherlands of dismaying, brutish negativity – but only late in extra time with a goal from the player of the tournament, Andres Iniesta.

The little man from La Mancha remains brilliant, but somewhat less dominant here and certainly he and Xavi and Cesc Fabregas have failed to convince anyone that playing without a recognised striking forward is a policy that can work indefinitely at the highest level.

There were plenty of reasons to celebrate Spain in South Africa – as there will be here if they win again – but the uncomfortable truth after victory over the Netherlands was that in seven games they had scored – against opposition which included Honduras, Switzerland and Paraguay – a mere eight goals.

Four years earlier, the Italian winners praised mostly for the superb defence of Fabio Cannavaro, scored four more, and in 1970 the team still most widely recognised as the greatest World Cup winners of all, Brazil, scored 19 despite playing the fine former World Cup finalists and future European champions Czechoslovakia, reigning world champions England, and former champions Uruguay and Italy. They also played a game less under the old 16-team format.

Damn statistics, you say, but in football the ones concerning goals will always be rather important. In Spain's case they could even determine a place in history.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
A bartender serves beers
news
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig and Rory Kinnear film Spectre in London
film
Life and Style
The finale at Dolce and Gabbana autumn/winter 2015
fashion
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?