Spain 3.0, Yamine Lamal’s Soda Pop & The Brashness Of Youth —  La Roja March To The Final Of Euro 2024

Spain 3.0, Yamine Lamal’s Soda Pop & The Brashness Of Youth —  La Roja March To The Final Of Euro 2024

Spain show silky football armed with the fearlessness of youth can get you to the final of Euro 2024

“Invent yourself & then reinvent yourself,” urged a fading Charles Bukowski in his baritone register as he read out his poem ‘No Leaders Please’ through a microphone on a dreary night, perhaps engulfed in creative destruction or drunken bedlam, but tonight Spain truly did reinvent themselves.

Thinking outside the box, innovation & reinvention drive the rise & fall of most commercial enterprises worldwide, but this is football & on the pitch, it means business too. So maybe Marcelo Bielsa’s timely comments that hit out at football becoming less sexy, more banal & hyper-commercialised also came at just the right time. Invent yourself, and then, reinvent yourself.

In more ways than one, this Spanish side lacks the glitz and glamour of Spanish sides of old, no Xavi, no Iniesta, no Busquets in midfield instead the eerily ever-present Rodri & Fabian Ruiz — that one guy from the latter stages of a five-a-side game with some deft touches & slick passes to make up for the lack of industry. No Torres or Villa up front, but journeyman striker Alvaro Morata, who has led the line admirably & captained his country duly.

No Carles Puyol & Gerrard Pique in defense with Casillas behind them in goal but the assured Aymeric Laporte; the only constant in De La Fuente’s changing back four defending Unai Simon between the sticks. Yes, Carvajal & Le Normand were unavailable but in came Nacho & Jesus Navas; the 38-year-old Navas who was deployed at right-back instead of the suspended Carvajal. Navas who is also just one day younger than the Windows operating system.

This is Spain 3.0 and tiki-taka 3.0. There’s nothing glamourous about the names but that changes in an instant when they’re on the pitch. They’ve been the most entertaining, incisive & cool & collected team in the face of adversity in the tournament. Amid the myriad backdrop of low-blocks & old geezers sitting in 5–4–1s not willing to budge, not willing to express, Spain have been the antithesis of most teams at Euro 2024; a highly functional, cohesive & expressive unit.

Maybe expression in football is a matter of taste, but in many ways, Bielsa’s rant was heard in every corner of the world via Football Twitter & moreover in every corner of Spain with this Spanish side showing that they can express themselves with finesse, and finish. A deft flick from Fabian Ruiz in the late stages of the game got the Spanish ‘Ole’s’ ringing out around the Allianz Arena

De la Fuente isn’t the proverbial big-name manager managing Spain like his predecessors Del Bosque & Luis Enrique, or even Fernando Hierro, but he has been critical to Spain’s reinvention & rejuvenation. Under De La Fuente, this has been Spain’s longest winning streak since their World Cup-winning team of 2010 & their first international cup final since winning Euro 2012.

To perhaps suggest that Spain deservedly reached the final of Euro 2024 would be an understatement to the praise De La Fuente & his team truly deserve. 1–0 down in a semi-final against France in the first ten minutes but hit straight back, like a Roger Federer backhand pass, scoring two inside twenty minutes to go 2–1 up. Just like Federer’s recent speech at Dartmouth University, this seemed “effortless” but it has taken work, & work by De La Fuente & his team of coaches behind the scenes. Spain’s will to win & remain unphased even in tight situations & tight spaces on the pitch has come with work; the key being teamwork.

A 100% record at Euro 2024, sending the tournament’s heavyweights Croatia, Italy, & Germany packing their bags & catching flights back home to sip on lagers in their native countries, feet up in the air et al, even more so for Toni Kroos on home soil, and after tonight France were dispatched as well. De La Fuente pensively marauded the touchline throughout the game, even telling the fourth official to calm down in the closing stages of the game as several members of the Spanish bench got out of their technical area excitedly awaiting the final whistle.

When you’re an adult looking back at life, you’ll find that brashness & fearlessness of youth present when you were younger. But it’s so fleeting now that you can’t feel it anymore & life has taken its course. But to feel that again, almost reaching out & touching it; that feeling of being sixteen. We all know that feeling, that feeling of having the world at your feet nothing embodied more than Spain’s sixteen-year-old winger Yamine Lamal.

The usual culprit & fidget spinner of words about the Spanish game for the Guardian, Sid Lowe tweeted this, after Yamal’s wonder strike.

To think outside the box, to strike it from outside the box, Spain’s reinvention has been driven by their sixteen-year-old prodigy who plies his trade in the heart of Catalunya & the fabled cathedrals that sing his name. After tonight, they could sing it forever. The teenager who saved Spain by scoring a sumptuous equaliser in the semi-finals at Euro 2024 — the headlines in the Spanish press will have Yamal all over it, as certain as a film by South Indian actor Rajinikanth & the press it gets.

When he has the ball anything can happen, but he’s also shown maturity far beyond his tender years. Think of the pass he played for Dani Olmo to arrive onto & hit first time against Germany. To pick up a yellow in the 90+1′ for a professional foul on Theo Hernandez on a France breakaway that even the French master of the dark arts Claude Makelele might have been proud of. Yamal might be a teenager but he’s got a proper footballing brain & ability to boot.

Of course, the moment of the night was that “belter” but accompanied by Nico Williams on the right, who is also twenty-one; old enough to be part of a Levi’s commercial with his look, La Roja’s wingers typify the coming of change & new beginnings for Spain & for Yamine Lamal spending the night; his last few nights of being sixteen, drinking his favourite soda.

Surely, deep down Lamal can’t comprehend all this. This gift, this natural ability, this mindset to go out there in the semi-finals of a European Championship for your country as a teen & give your team the most needed equaliser of the tournament after going 1–0 down. Curling the ball into the top corner beyond arguably one of the goalkeepers of the tournament in Mike Maignan. It might all just be a schoolboy’s dream.

The picture of the Spanish bench’s reaction to Yamal’s equaliser tells a thousand words too; something to show every teenager in Spain and give them the wings to dream.

France’s gameplan remained in typical Deschamps mould. Sit in their mid-to-low block & hit on the break using the pace of Mbappe & Dembele. So the fact that they went in front, in what was their only goal from open play in the tournament (after 87 attempts on goal) via Kolo Muani’s header from an inch-perfect & pinpoint cross from Mbappe came as a bit of a surprise.

Deschamps’ imprint on this team is largely apparent, an extension of the way he captained France to World Cup glory in 1998 & Euro glory at Euro 2000 as a player & World Cup triumph in 2018 as a manager. There’s nothing flamboyant about France & it looked as though they would ride their luck & nick it again but Spain just passed & passed & passed decisively playing between the lines.

Dani Olmo’s story on the Players’ Tribune is another heartfelt one. Of a footballer coming from humble beginnings & his love of the ball, even at the expense of a photograph with Leo Messi. So of course, he wasn’t one to shy away from hitting that low strike at the French goal after a bit of inspired ball control, rifling a shot on target that eventually hit the back of the net off Joules Kounde.

Nico Williams could’ve made it three for La Roja but for an inspired almost Manuel Neuer-esque slide tackle & clearance by Mike Maignan. Theo Hernandez’s effort was on his weaker foot & it sailed over the bar in what was yet another failed French shot on goal.

Mbappe had a chance late on, as he stormed into the box 1v1 against the Bilbao substitute Vivian but blazed it over the bar when all he needed was a deft finish in the bottom corner.

Including Mbappe’s miss & choice of finish & in many ways, the game was almost like a passing of the baton at the Olympics (coincidentally to be held in France later this month) of old ways giving way to new. Of Deschamps’ old approach to the game being undone by De La Fuente’s fearless attack & slick, silky play.

Of the old Spanish guard, being given their guard of honour by the new generation. With fresh blood, fresh ideas & impetus forged deeply in the fearlessness of youth emulating the heights of their historic team of 2010 & 2012 isn’t out of the question — the final awaits.

Or in many ways, this game & Spain throughout Euro 2024 remind us perhaps about what we’ve forgotten about football & life along the way. Yes, results are important & results define whatever business or line of work you might come across, even in sport, but the glory of youth, that deft touch from Zidane, that curler by Figo, that header by Charisteas, that corner from Arda Guler, that bicycle kick by Bellingham, that postage stamp finish from Yamal — the reward is to play & doing so with a certain finesse & guile & ending with a flourish can’t hurt.

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