Paper Round: Are Spain killing football?

Spain's underwhelming performance in the Euro 2012 semi-final and Cristiano Ronaldo's failed spot-kick strategy dominate Thursday's sporting headlines.

Eurosport

The defending European and world champions continued their run of dull displays in their semi-final against Portugal, and The Times's Oliver Kay sums up their tournament nicely: "Even as their crown slipped last night, this extraordinary generation of Spanish footballers just about retained their sense of majesty... By their own sky-high standards, Spain have disappointed at Euro 2012. By anyone else’s standards, they are worthy finalists."

The Daily Mirror goes much further in its criticism, calling it, "the night when football fell out of love with the world and European champions.

"The number of empty seats in the Donbass Arena was supposedly a reflection of the cost of travelling to Donetsk. But the stayaway fans might just have become fed-up with Spain’s football philosophy. Their tiki-taka short passing game is easy on the eye but maybe football’s love affair with the Spanish is fading.

"The truth is Spain do not look the well-oiled machine of two years ago at the World Cup and they lack the firepower of the team which won Euro 2008."

The Daily Telegraph's report leads on Ronaldo, criticising the Real Madrid superstar for "saving himself for the 'glory' spot-kick" after putting himself down for the fifth penalty in a shoot-out that never got that far.

The Guardian follow suit, calling the decision to save Ronaldo for the fifth kick "bizarre", arguing that it will haunt the man who believed he would cement his place in history by leading his country to glory.

The paper's Richard Williams, usually so full of praise for the Spanish game, also sticks the boot in over the accusations that Vicente Del Bosque's man have made football boring: "So are Spain really killing football? A large section of the below-capacity crowd in the Donbass Arena seemed to think so... There is a soft, frictionless quality to the style known as tiki-taka which makes it feel as though Spain are playing in carpet slippers and which robs the game of the explosive, percussive element that has always been a part of the game."

He also makes an excellent point about the increasing hysteria about Spain's always impressive passing and possession statistics: "They are also the most statistics-friendly team of all time, and it is hard to know which came first: their dominance or the current obsession with the sort of research that tells us they played 66 through-balls in their first four matches of the tournament.

"At half-time came the news that their pass-completion rate was 85 per cent lower than they had managed in any of their previous matches in the tournament, but you didn't need a nerd with a calculator and a Twitter account watching the game on telly at home in Potters Bar to tell you that. Portugal were pushing the defending champions into unaccustomed untidiness and uncertainty."

The Spanish press is not bothered, though: "We're going to the final!" screams the giant headline in AS, whose story leads with the amazing cheek and nerve shown by Sergio Ramos with his dinked penalty.

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Marca, meanwhile, hails the "team of legend" that is "one step away from a historic triple". There is not a shred of doubt about the team's display, the paper claiming that penalties, "did justice again, as they did against Italy in 2008" and prasing Ramos for having "two hearts".

Portugal's O Jogo praises its men despite its anguish at seeing them fall short, saying they "fell with honour and pride" and adding that they, "managed the feat of frightening the European and world champions - a lot".

Elsewhere, France's L'Equipe offers its judgement that Spain "squeezed through a mouse hole" to make the final, though it credits both Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas and the defence in front of him for coming through nine consecutive knockout phase matches without conceding a single goal.

Italy's Gazzetta takes a similar line, likening Spain to the legendary West Germany side of the 1970s who, like the Spanish, once stood on the verge of winning three consecutive tournaments.

Moving on to the day's transfer news and the big story is that Tottenham's Luka Modric is to submit a formal transfer request in the next week or so, according to The Sun.

The Croatian is desperate to move to either Manchester United or Real Madrid despite Spurs having told him that they will hold him to his existing deal - but Modric's agent has started talks and a deal to see him leave is apparently in the pipeline. United will pay cash, but Real want to do some sort of player swap deal with Gonzalo Higuain tipped to be a makeweight.

The Times reports that Gareth Bale's new deal at Tottenham was run past Andre Villas-Boas before the club agreed it, claiming that the Portuguese will be unveiled as the new boss at White Hart Lane on Sunday - despite persistent rumours from France that Laurent Blanc is in the running.

The Daily Mail reports that David Silva has begun negotiations about a new deal to keep him at Manchester City, and adds that Mario Balotelli is also set to stay after his agent ruled out a move to Italian champions Juventus.

And finally, Michael Owen's reported move to the Middle East looks to be in tatters after Al-Shabab's vice president claimed that the striker is, "on the downhill slope".

Leaving aside the lamentable fact that Owen has been on the slide since July 1998, why hasn't anybody told Al-Shabab that his state of decline is the only reason he was a possibility in the first place?

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