Counterintuitive Historical Trends Tumble at Euro 2012

Maybe it’s my peculiarly American viewpoint (read: spotty historical perspective on all things European Championships pre-1984) but it’s striking to consider that Spain, until it drained the soul of France today, 2-0, had never beaten the French in a competitive match before today. Ever. Even in a qualifier or something? Yes, never. The French have won trophies and, like Spain, was a top-class side for a long time before it finally did win something, but surely the Spanish, defending Euro and World Cup champions, had managed to beat France at some point, somewhere. Apparently not.

I read, too, that Spain has never beaten Italy over 90 minutes, ever, only on penalties (in the quarters at Euro 2010). There’s a mind-blower.

Somewhere I read similarly that Germany had never beaten Italy in a major tournament, i.e. the Euros or World Cup. Germany. Actually, to be fair, I think it was some German football dignitary who had opined that in “big matches”, knock-out games, Germany had never beaten Italy — and so they looked forward to the opportunity in the approaching semi should The Azzurri take down England Sunday. But still, I had just assumed that the holes in my own historical knowledge of past Euro and World Cup encounters would account for the one time Germany had surely ousted Italy from a major tournament. The Mannschaft’s nearly alien efficiency in grinding out tournament results alone should account for one win, even against the Italians. Apparently not.

Makes you wonder what sort of chance the English really have on Sunday, in the last of four quarters. After all, I learned recently of another fascinating historical tidbit — that England had never beaten any past World Cup or Euro champion nation outside Wembley Stadium in a major competition, other than Denmark. The lengths to which some stat freak went to gather that obscure, apparently true factoid dampens one’s awestruck wonder just a bit. But in another way, it remains incredibly telling. Basically, as the English have never won any tournament other than the World Cup (at Wembley), they’ve also never beaten any truly elite time, at any time, in any major tournament, anywhere but North London. Except Denmark of course.

It seems clear to me that these footballing heavyweights could not have played that many times over the years — that’s one reason these “records” have, counterintuitively, lasted as long as they have. England and Italy, the nation that claims to have invented the game and the four-time world champions, have met only twice before in major tournaments, never on neutral soil, and only four times in qualifying games for major competitions. The Germans have played Italy 27 times in 89 years, the vast majority being friendlies and qualifiers, as opposed to Euro semifinals or whatnot. Telling to note that Germany’s overall record vs. Italy is a paltry 7 wins, 14 losses and 6 ties.

Clearly there are some major historical forces being put to the test on Europe’s eastern frontier this summer. Spain has slain one demon in France. England and/or Germany will have the chance to slay another later this week.

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