The four teams which reached the European Championships semi-finals are all sides in a position to offer a real touch of distinction to this event. They are all trying to reach the final in a sporting event which was distinguished by the emergence of a game concept. Once a maltreated competition, this edition of the cup has seen itself vindicated.
Germany are a team whose strategy is, first of all, to play better than their opponents and do so by employing the simplicity of handling the ball first, then space and then time, slow and safe, and when it works, fast and sharp, dictating the area of play to their wishes. Competitive in all their efforts and very supportive as a team — in this way they progressed this far and will surely get further.
And then great enthusiasm generated by the Italian team, who played in a big way, more concerned with recovering the ball by strategy and collective effort than to disrupting the game, as was their habit of old. This Italian team dressed up in its finest, blended its colours well, coordinated the shade of its tie and left the house with elegance, demonstrating that it can, in fact, play well.
The Italians did not deserve to have to go to a penalty shootout in the game against England. If only they had found more refinement in the build-up area of a move, in the short pass game in front of goal. Because if you have time to build up and elaborate a move, then this is where intuition plays a bigger role than capacity. Pirlo put his stamp on the Italian idea with the execution of his penalty. At 33 years, he is still an artist.
I once asked Adolf Pedernera, a great Argentinian player, partner to the late Alfredo Di Stefano, when playing with River and Millonarios of Colombia, about football in his time and if this was in fact as bad as what we witnessed. And he answered me roughly as follows: “Listen, I can only say that what I see today in football, I have seen many times before, but what I saw in the past in the game, I do not see any more today.”
Many years further on, I would like to warn him: “Don Adolfo, Germany, Italy and Spain will allow me to see once again what was seen in the past.”
— The writer is a former football coach who managed Argentina to 1978 World Cup glory.