Monday, July 12, 2021

The finals

I had a long trip from San Salvador to Denmark, but I managed to watch this weekend's two great football finals where the home teams, each in their own legendary stadium, lost to the away side.

The Copa America final on Saturday at Maracana Stadium between Brazil and Argentina, was won 0-1 by the Argentineans through an excellent first half strike by Angel di Maria. The Brazilians were not bad, and managed to put some pressure on Argentina in the second half, but in the end the Argentine defense stood strong and Argentina even had the biggest chances for a greater victory.

Argentina's first international title since 1993, and the first time Lionel Messi, losing three finals before this one, had taken a title with his national team, so in every way this was a special (and well-deserved) victory for the Argentineans.

On the European championship final: much of England had for days been prematurely announcing that football would come home, hardly aware that football is already home everywhere else in the world. And this kind of premature celebrations hardly win any sympathy: while the English were (understandably) disappointed most of the world (including myself) celebrated Italy's European Championship triumph.

Having watched the match, England should be disappointed: they went ahead 1-0 after only two minutes on a goal by one of the tournament's best players, Luke Shaw. England kept playing well, but slowly Italy got more comfortable on the pitch, while England, oddly, retreated more and more to defend their lead. One can only feel that they should have kept pressure, trying to close the deal, instead of more or less openly inviting Italy back into the match. 

The Italians do not say no to an invitation and Leonardo Bonucci's second half equalizer was fully deserved as England totally left the match to the splendidly unforgiving Italians.

As  extra time was approaching its end Gareth Southgate made some curious changes, clearly aimed at putting in the kickers for a nerve-wrecking penalty kick contest: Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho came in at the end, and it were exactly those two who missed for England after they had been put in a golden position by Pickford's save of Andrea Belotti's kick. Even though Jorginho missed another for Italy, the only 19-year old Bukayo Saka did not have the nerves to make a proper kick, which was saved by the best player of the tournament Gianluigi Donnarumma (only 22-years old, he may well become one of the best goalkeepers in footballing history), giving Italy their second European champion's title, the first being in 1968.

The most talented young players from England were punished for their infinite talent, and that was the most heartbreaking thing in a final won by the best team of the tournament.

Italy was the best team of the tournament as a whole; a solid, attacking team, scoring most goals (alongside Spain) and with one of the best defensive records, they showed few weak points. All in all, a splendid team, and I reiterate that I find this the best Italy side I have ever seen.

England, in the meantime, won few friends: granted, they played the tournament with the cynical planning required to win a tournament; winning, but not impressing, with a strong defense and some extremely talented players. That said, they seemed too calculating, too careful, despite their immense talent, something that only became too obvious in the final. 

But more than the team, the English fans won no friends in the rest of the world. The vast, vast majority of English fans are good, decent hardworking people (like the vast majority of fans in the world), but they retain a greater minority of brainless hooligans than anywhere else in the world, and their society seems in total denial that they exist: booing at national anthems, using lasers against opposing sides, insults and spits, were sadly overshadowed by the fans storming Wembley before the match and most of all by the racist insults suffered by English players after the defeat.

Who the hell wants to win with supporters like that...?

I have never supported England and never will, but I understand the greatest disappointment that real English fans may feel (even in their denial): that their team's achievement of reaching a final will forever be overshadowed by the memory of the idiotic few ruining the party of the many.

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