Stylish Spanish typify attacking tournament
VIENNA, June 30 (Reuters) - It was only fitting that Euro 2008 signed off with a classic final after three weeks of consistently high-quality, attacking, entertaining football that helped make it one of the best tournaments for years.
Only a few games, most obviously the Spain v Italy quarter-final, were strangled by fear of failure and in Spain's case, having lost so regularly at that stage, that was understandable.
Otherwise there was a real commitment to attack, from all areas, and Spain's final triumph was a just reward for their superiority at some of the most basic aspects of the game -- accurate passing, instant control and sharp movement.
Much of the pre-tournament talk had been of the likely impact of the strikers but, David Villa's first-game hat-trick apart, it was midfielders who generally ruled the roost.
'Most of the teams who came to the tournament as 4-4-2 finished as 4-5-1, including both finalists.' observed Arsenal's French coach Arsene Wenger.
Many of the most effective sides - Spain, Russia and Netherlands in particular - also employed fullbacks who were virtual wingers, often swamping the opposition.
Andy Roxburgh, the head of UEFA's technical delegation, said he had been hugely impressed.
'You have the classic counter coming from the back but also from midfield areas, a kind of collective counter where they win it in midfield and a group of players break at speed, catching out defenders,' he said.
'The best teams are now trying to exploit the space when it is there by playing a high intensity game, running at pace.'
The only real area of play that was sub-standard was the delivery of free kicks and corners, which far too often failed to clear the first defender, resulting in very few headed goals.
Many teams, when awarded a free kick in what traditionally would have been a dangerous position, simply took a touch and resumed their patient build-up.
There was little patience about the Netherlands, who charged out of the blocks to give one of the best attacking performances of the group stage and were then on the receiving end of a similarly effervescent display by Russia in the quarter-finals.
There was talk of 'Total Football' as the Dutch swept past world champions Italy 3-0, helped by Wesley Sneijder's contender for best goal of the tournament.
But they were undone by an even more adventurous show as Russia, who also sparkled against Sweden, ground them down with their Andrei Arshavin-inspired attacking for a deserved 3-1 win.
Then it was Russia's turn to chase shadows as Spain eventually passed them into exhaustion then picked them off with three well crafted second-half goals in a terrific semi-final where barely a backward pass was made.
Germany's high point was the thrilling 3-2 quarter-final win over Portugal when the advanced midfield role of Michael Ballack inspired them to one of their best performances for years.
In the final it was Spain's cutting edge passing, and a top-notch finish by Fernando Torres, rather than Germany's powerful running, that fittingly secured the trophy.