Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Alan Green: Spain to reign and end 44-year pain


In pictures: Euro 2008" > After a successful season in the Premiership with Liverpool, Spain will be expecting a big performance from Fernando Torres at Euro 2008
After a successful season in the Premiership with Liverpool, Spain will be expecting a big performance from Fernando Torres at Euro 2008

In pictures: Euro 2008

I'd much rather that one or two of the home nations had qualified for the European Championship that gets under way tonight. Trust me, it's far easier being away from home for weeks when I'm thinking people listening are truly as much caught up in what's happening as I am.

As it is, I suspect the football public in the UK will be largely indifferent to events in Switzerland and Austria unless, and there's ample opportunity, they 'adopt' a nation that happens to feature one or two of their favourite Premiership players.

And I must be honest too. Not having England here, and the consequent worries about how England fans will behave, will mean I'll enjoy the tournament more. That's a lesson I learnt in the 1994 World Cup in the United States.

Who'll win it? Well, forecasting is probably a mug's game given that NO ONE saw Greece as European champions four years ago, and I think you could make a sound case for any one of eight countries emerging victorious on June 30 - Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Netherlands, Russia and Spain.

However, for many reasons, I fancy the latter. Like England, Spain are serial under-achievers. I can't remember the last time they didn't enter a World Cup or a European Championship and weren't ranked as one of the favourites.

Yet, if England must look back 42 years for their solitary international success, Spanish memories have to stretch further. They were European champions in 1964 but since then they've had nothing.

So, why should they this time? I think, aside from a perceived weakness at centre-back, they're strong in every other department, particularly in midfield and up front.

Fernando Torres had an incredible debut season at Liverpool. He arrived with a hefty transfer fee on his back and a reputation at Athletico Madrid that suggested a hardly prolific goal scoring record.

Wrong. Torres has been brilliant. If it hadn't been for Ronaldo, he'd surely have been Footballer of the Year. As at Anfield, he usually operates for Spain as a lone forward but, as with Gerrard, he gets considerable scoring support from David Villa. Spain will not lack goals.

I find the Spanish midfield equally exciting. Its strength is summed up by the fact that Cesc Fabregas is far from certain of a place in the starting line-up and we all know how important he is and has been to Arsenal.

The Barcelona pair of Iniesta and Xavi is outstanding even if both, particularly Xavi, are under-rated. Heaven knows why. A Premiership club with any foresight might have picked him up a couple of years ago pretty cheaply. Today the Barca playmaker has a £100 million buy-out clause in his contract.

I see Spain emerging comfortably from Group D, along with Russia, and then they'd have a difficult quarter-final against Italy, Netherlands or France. But they're good enough to go further.

I think that 44-year wait for another title will end in Vienna.

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I'd be surprised if many Manchester United fans aren't becoming sick and tired of Cristiano Ronaldo. The best player in England these last two years is doing them and his club a terrible disservice. The constant talk of him going to Real Madrid and precisely when he's leaving is surely enough to provoke people into thinking 'well, if that's what you really want, go ahead and do it'.

I've never seen the point of holding on to an unhappy player and Ferguson talking about leaving Ronaldo "in the stands" rather than selling him is a na£ve and childish response. What would be the point except for frustrating the Spanish?

And, while I'm no supporter of the way they go about their business, have Real Madrid acted any differently than the way the United boss pursued Stam and Van Nistelrooy in the past? Surely it would be far better to take the silly money that would be offered and wave Ronaldo goodbye?

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Manchester City's Thai owner is very lucky that's he's picked up Mark Hughes as his new manager.

Its good fortune Shinawatra scarcely deserves after his shoddy treatment of Eriksson.

I am a huge fan of the Welshman. His quiet demeanour off the field is in marked contrast to the tenacity he showed on it as a player and the determination with which he's pursued success in management.

But I can only assume he's been given marked assurances that he'll be allowed to work at Eastlands as he pleases. The last couple of months make most of us believe otherwise.

Anyway, City fans, so unhappy at the departure of the Swede, can be certain they've got one of the very best British managers around. Their only worry, and many have already expressed it, is that one day Hughes will get to manage the club at the centre of his affections - Manchester United.



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