Spain’s historic treble – completed with their 4-0 thrashing of Italy – was rounded off by Monday’s announcement of Andres Iniesta as player of the tournament. As much as the jewel in the Spanish footballing crown more than merits such an accolade, even before his sublime through ball which created the opening goal in the final, a more than worthy candidate can be found for this honour.
Sergio Ramos has come of age this season in helping Real Madrid to regain La Liga from arch rivals Barcelona, chiefly in moving from right-back to centre-half in the absence of Ricardo Carvalho. The move has been a blessing in disguise for “Los Merengues” as Ramos has added dynamism and generally more cultured distribution of the ball to complement his warhorse partner, Pepe.
However, Ramos’ advancements were tarnished by him sending his critical penalty kick into orbit in the Champions League semi-final shootout defeat to Bayern Munich. This inevitably led to questions being asked as to whether such impetuousness may cost Spain dearly in the European Championships, with the Andalucian set to fill the battle-hardened boots of the injured Carles Puyol.
During the first half of Spain’s Group C opener against Italy, such questions were momentarily vindicated as a lacklustre back pass from Ramos presented Mario Balotelli with a golden opportunity to give the Azzurri the lead, with only Casillas to beat. However, a moment’s hesitation from Balotelli coupled with Ramos’ desire and athleticism allowed him to atone for his error with an inch perfect yet high-risk sliding tackle. This short passage of play proved to be a monumental turning point in Ramos’ tournament, as both he and his fellow defenders went on to concede only one goal in the six games played.
After clean sheets against a hapless Republic of Ireland, valiant Croatia and a futile France, Spain were handed an Iberian derby in the semi final against Portugal, who can take solace from being the first team to truly disrupt the reigning champions’ famous “tiki-taka” possession-based game. Although chances were few and far between, both Ramos and his central defensive partner Gerard Pique made sure that Cristiano Ronaldo had only scraps to feed off during Portugal’s rare counter attacks.
Indeed, Ronaldo’s free-kicks, which usually end up in row Z thus resembling a rugby conversion in keeping with his frivolous address of the ball, were almost put to shame by Ramos, as his audacious 30-yard attempt whistled agonisingly over Rui Patricio’s crossbar. Nevertheless, his outstanding performance in the 120 minutes was ultimately eclipsed by an emphatic banishing of his spot-kick nightmare in April with an outrageous dinked penalty down the middle of the goal, a sure-fire sign of a player brimming with confidence to round off Ramos’ complete defensive performance that at times went beyond the call of duty.
In truth, Spain’s back five had one of their easiest games in the tournament in the final, as their teammates further up the field produced a scintillating attacking display. The precocious Jordi Alba linked defence and attack from the left-back position, rounding off his outstanding tournament with a cool finish for Spain’s second, belying his tender years and limited international experience.
Yet Ramos still shone when called upon, particularly in his early exchanges with Balotelli, and stamped his authority on the game while providing Pique with the insurance to begin to recapture his famed elegant interceptions and buccaneering forward runs that have led to his nickname of “Piquenbauer” in his native Barcelona.
After one of the all-time great team displays by Spain in the first half – which gave the holders a two-goal lead – the final became a procession, culminating in joyous scenes on the Kyiv turf as “la furia roja” paraded their third consecutive piece of silverware. Ramos deservedly took centre stage, performing a matador routine to a chorus of “olé” from the adoring fans. In following in the footsteps of his former team mate and national darling Raúl, this lasting memory of the celebrations may prove to be of great symbolic importance in years to come.
Sergio Ramos has proved in Euro 2012 that he is ready to assume the role of lynchpin of the national side, a rock upon which this Spanish footballing dynasty can continue to be built upon.