Without doubt, Holland was the highlight, writes Cesar Luis Menotti
The first stage of the competition has now been completed. The teams taking part in the quarterfinals of Euro 2008 are the teams which should be there — with all their differences. Some appear to have been strengthened in their resolve, some, however, are exhibiting uncertainties, if we have to make a general observation about the ideas expressed by the eight qualifiers.
In the game of football, as in literature, painting, music, engineering, architecture, etc, there are, in principle, two ways to do things — well or badly. One plays well or one plays badly.
This is not a question of taste. It is a question of knowledge. Knowledge functions by means of selection of significant data and rejection of insignificant data.
Without doubt, Holland was the highlight.
This team has maintained commitment to its fan-base of a certain style of play, a style which pays homage to the two great characters in the team’s history: Rinus Michels, coach, and Johan Cruyff, player-coach, guardians — in their time — of a crown heretofore worn only by Di Stefano, Pelé and Maradona — player kings who could win games while simultaneously playing well.
This culture and commitment is so important and obvious that Dutch fans could defend with pride a team which lost in the finals. If Holland should not leave as eventual champions, there will be some who will say “the most important thing is to win”. But Holland, this Holland in particular, could in fact lose a match and still return home with its pride intact.
Will to win
Spain accompanied its intention to play well with the will to win. It has substance and also some players who are playing well. Its forwards, unlike others, are exactly that — forwards and not just goalscorers. They play well and they score goals. This is the main difference between forwards and mere goalscorers.
Germany is playing well and is up among the candidates. It could be a good team if its individuals could ascend to a higher level. The team knows how to play football.Italy, especially this Italian team, depends on success.
If the team loses a game, then it tends to lose everything, questioning everything, even the choice of strip. Sure, Italy was the last World Champion and it has also qualified for the next round. The team has also improved, changed its ideas about the game and replaced players.
Precision on the pitch
Russia currently has a trainer who has brought order into the team. The team has become more rapid through its precision on the pitch.
However, this order has not limited the Russians’ sense of adventure, in fact it has become a more solid team.
The team has responded to a clear concept, plays good one-touch football. In three quarters of the pitch it is difficult to find a player who is not facing forward, attacking the opponent. And if it should happen that one player has his back to the opposing goal, then he does what is asked of him and passes — one touch — quickly.
The players are dynamic with the ball, but being dynamic is not the same as running a lot. The Russians do not run with the ball, they let the ball run for them. They are dynamic because they play the ball rapidly to each other and everybody is involved in the moves. And thus we can look forward to a great game against Holland, which however possesses a substantial advantage over the Russians. It can recover the ball well and defend better.