Is Spain the new Germany? Is Germany the new Spain?
When Germany played the Netherlands back at the start of Euro 2012, a Germany-supporting friend asked why I refused to cheer for his team, especially since I don’t have any Dutch friends.
The answer isn’t any lasting prejudice against Germans over the two major wars fought against them last century. We Europeans have spent millennia fighting each other, so it’s hard to hold something as insignificant as a couple of wars against them.
No, apart from some resentment at the regularity with which Germany knocks England out of international tournaments, the reason is that German fans simply don’t know what it feels like. They don’t understand what it is like to put all of your country’s hopes and dreams into a soccer game and fail, again and again. Or, at least, they didn’t.
The Dutch understand. I’m not convinced they feel it quite as painfully as the English; they didn’t invent the game, and though they have never won a World Cup, they were European champions as recently as 1988 and ranked No. 1 by FIFA last summer. Nonetheless, I know the way their team crashed out of this year’s tournament must cut deeply.
However, as I gleefully watched the highlights of Italy’s 2-1 win over Germany last Thursday, I began to feel a little guilty. The image of a German fan, decked out in her national colors, looking distraught, with tears rolling down her cheeks, evoked a touch of empathy. In its guise as either West Germany or Germany, the country has three World Cups and three European Championships to its name, but it hasn’t won a single title for the last sixteen years even though it has reached three semifinals and two finals in that time. The young and exciting team that hinted at a bright future a few years ago still has time to turn this around, but the clock has started ticking. Could Germany’s golden generation end up with nothing more than silver or bronze?
Spain used to know the feeling. We English used to be able to commiserate with our Iberian cousins. Though the Spanish had often boasted talent, a lone European Championship in 1964 had been their only success until 2008. The team had always flattered to deceive, reaching just a single final in that period.
Not anymore, though. By winning the final of Euro 2012 on Sunday, Spain took its winning streak to three tournaments, coming on the heels of its victories in Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup. In doing so, it becomes the first country to win three consecutive international titles. Note that, even though the Copa América is played more frequently than the European Championship, no South American team has yet managed to achieve this<\p>–<\p>not even the holy trinity of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, with their combined total of nine World Cups and 37 Copa Américas.
Everyone loves rooting for an underdog, but Spain is certainly not that anymore. In fact, the current group of players can make a serious claim to be the best team in soccer history. The style they play is hard to classify as exciting, but it is breathtakingly good. Some teams are more aggressive and rain down shots on goal. Spain just takes its time, carefully retaining possession while looking for that perfect chance, spurning opportunities that lesser teams would kill for. Faced with this, some of the world’s best players are completely neutralized, unable to even touch the ball.
I’m not quite sure I can yet start openly cheering for Germany. After all, it is only on a short 16-year streak of international failure and can still count on having won six trophies. Compared to England’s 46-year title drought and lone World Cup, that hardly seems like a bad run. It’s also hard to shake the image of Germany ending English dreams at countless tournaments.
But I’m not sure I can keep supporting Spain. For a start, it probably doesn’t need my help. It’s probably going to win the World Cup in Brazil in two years regardless of who I root for. And while it hasn’t yet managed to cross over and join the axis-of-evil of Germany and Argentina, all this success just seems a bit distasteful. At the very least they could take a leaf out of France’s book and hit the self-destruct button from time to time.
Sorry Spain, you’re on your own now.
Tom Taylor can only dream that England will somehow win a major tournament in his lifetime. Sympathize with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.