Football's soul was the winner at UEFA EURO 2012 – splendid football, a positive attitude from teams and coaches, and a host of spectacular goals watched by exuberant crowds.
The team coaches and technical directors of Europe's national associations have celebrated the quality of the play and identified key technical and tactical trends at this summer's tournament in Poland and Ukraine during this week's tenth UEFA Conference for European National Team Coaches in Warsaw.
Ending the three days of deliberations, UEFA technical director Andy Roxburgh, Spain's European champion coach Vicente del Bosque and Polish coaching legend Jerzy Engel were able to reflect on a successful and fascinating event and emphasise just how UEFA EURO 2012 epitomised the high standard of national team football in Europe.
While teams' defences are being organised in an ever more sophisticated manner, Roxburgh stressed that the main onus at the EURO final round was on a positive approach and trying to score goals. "The one thing that we saw at EURO was that the football was anything but boring – it was the opposite," he said. "The top four teams [Spain, Italy, Germany and Portugal] took the initiative, they played with incredible flair and imagination.
“Yes, the defensive blocks are far more sophisticated than they've ever been, but as usual the football brain will try find a solution to this. For example, we had 22 goals from headers – which was a big surprise. Solutions were being found not necessarily with wingers, but with combination play on the flanks. The ability to counterattack at pace is another element of that. People who might be pessimistic because teams have become clever at defending are kidding themselves.
"Football will always find a way to be spectacular and exciting. I think the key today is because of television and the demands of the public," Roxburgh continued. "There's not just the element of winning football matches, but trying to win them in a positive manner. 'Winning ugly' is fine occasionally, but you won't win titles on a regular basis like that."
Del Bosque's Spanish team – talented, skilful and vibrant – completed a remarkable hat-trick in Poland and Ukraine, winning the title to follow their successes at UEFA EURO 2008 and in the 2010 FIFA World Cup. "It is true that it seems there is a tendency," Del Bosque said, "and I’m not saying it because [Spain] play like that, but there is a tendency to prioritise having good ball possession, trying to take the initiative and to be creative."
Spain's tactical flexibility even extended to approaching a match at EURO without a recognised striker – perhaps a surprise to the football world. However, Del Bosque said that his players were good enough to adapt to this innovative system.
"What is important is the players," he told UEFA.com at the conference. "The players need to be great football players, and that they have this hunger for success, great team workers, players with talent, and who have proved on the pitch that they are champions. And that makes it easier, more than a certain system or a different one, like if we played with or without a real 'No9'."
The closing of the conference also provided an ideal opportunity to again highlight the positive attitude showed by players and coaches, in particular towards the referees. "We all felt that the standard of refereeing was excellent," said Roxburgh. "The use of the additional assistant referee had a big impact, first of all because it's a deterrent, you don't get as many incidents in the penalty box. The behaviour and attitude of the coaches in particular was exemplary. I think this was because the referees went to visit the teams [before the tournament], and the coaches showed class."
Coaches were unanimous in welcoming the conference as a prime opportunity to exchange ideas and take an in-depth look at football's development for the future. "This was an excellent sounding board for coaches to come together and talk, such events are unique and can be welcomed," said Engel, representing the UEFA Development and Technical Assistance Committee.
"I think these conferences are always important," England coach Roy Hodgson, a vastly experienced observer at UEFA technical events, told UEFA.com. "It's a chance to meet your colleagues, it's a chance to listen to their take, if you like, on not only the latest tournament, but also on the future trends of football."
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