The UEFA Championship final game played yesterday between Espana and Germany was a beauty, with Spain clearly the more talented, creative team. And Spain actually won without the disgrace of going to penalty kicks. Best of all neither the hated Germans, who used to be boring but now play a positive game, nor the reviled Italians, who still play every game as if 0-0 is a victory, won the cup. This, and the outstanding play and many exciting finishes, can only be good for the beautiful game.
My friend Budd Bailey was here a few weeks ago and left me the book "Once in a Lifetime" about the defunct NASL and it's efforts to make soccer popular in the US, a battle that has been fought by lovers of soccer for decades, and maybe the tide has turned. Certainly, futbol is not about to replace football (we need to change that name....come on, "football" hardly describes the game we play here!) as our most popular sport, but you can't say America doesn't care (outside the sports media, that is). I wanted to watch yesterday's game around people who cared, so I went to Boulder's Irish pub, but it was jammed 15 minutes before kick-off. So I tried the sport bar around the corner, and it too was jammed. Fortunately, there was one seat left at the outside bar. Packed bars to watch a soccer match that has no local or national interest at all! Amazing!
On another soccer related note, the Italians had me thinking about the horrible way they choose to play soccer, and their horrible economy. Italian football is a negative game, played to defend, defend, defend, and hope to win 1-0 on an opponent mistake. It sucks. It is why people hate soccer, and why everyone who is not Italian roots against them in every big tournament. Only when forced to, such as against France when they HAD to win, will you see Italy go forward. This is a horrible shame, because the France game showed that they have the talent to play a beautiful game if they want. And, as came out a few years ago, the Italian league is corrupt and run to the benefit of a few rich clubs.
Now, think about the Italian economy. It is mired at the bottom of the table of economic growth in Europe. Italy is still stuck with ridiculous labor laws, similar to those scrapped by the movers and shakers of Europe. They have a Prime Minister, Burlusconi, who is completely corrupt, self-serving, and only passes laws that are designed to keep him from prosecution for his many crimes (any surprise he is a good friend of Bush?). Unions stomp on any economic liberalization. In other words, they don't go forward, just like their soccer team. Creativity and imagination is stifled in favor of the status quo (nil-nil?), just like their soccer team.
Franklin Foer wrote a great book a few years ago called "How Soccer Explains the World". There was no chapter on how soccer explains Italy's economy, but if he ever plans to write a second volume, I think there should be. It's point would be that a bad football strategy and a bad economic strategy are both big losers.