Euro 2012 preview: Italy vs Spain
This Sunday sees defending champions Spain take on Italy in the Euro 2012 final. These European Championships have been exciting as well as being somewhat unpredictable as the likes of Holland and Russia along with hosts Poland and Ukraine all fell at the first hurdle. It was Portugal who progressed from the groups ahead of the unimpressive Dutch who finished on zero points and the Portuguese reached the semi-finals following a 1-0 with over the Czech Republic. In the second quarter-final, Greece dared to surprise everyone again before losing 4-2 to Germany. Spain easily beat a lacklustre France 2-0 in their quarter-final match before edging out Portugal in the semis on penalties following a goalless 120 minutes. England briefly defied the odds as they topped Group D before coming face-to-face with penalties again ending in defeat to the Italians, this set up last night’s second semi-final between the Germans and the Italians where Mario Balotelli stole the show in the Azzurri‘s 2-1 win to ensure their unbeaten run over Germany in competitive football (four wins, four draws, zero defeats), and ensure that the Germans didn’t conquer Eastern Europe again.
It’s fair to say that these two teams deserve to be in the final as both have played attractive football and produced when it has mattered most. The Italians have had their critics, especially early on, but manager Cesare Prandelli has introduced an attacking mentality to the side that not many Italy teams have possessed in years gone by. In last night’s win over Germany, Andrea Pirlo stole the show again but his supporting cast of De Rossi, Montolivo and Marchisio played their part as the four midfielders outclassed the likes of Schweinsteiger and Özil. They defended like many great past Italian sides in the second half but still looked dangerous on the break and should have finished the game off during the closing stages.
Italy have eased their way into the tournament as they got through their group with 1-1 draws against Spain and Croatia and ending in a 2-0 victory over the Republic of Ireland in the final group match. It was in that game against Ireland that we first saw Balotelli’s brilliance but that was briefly, last night “Super Mario” was fantastic. His first goal was a well-taken header whereas the second was arguably goal of the tournament as, following great movement, he broke through the German defence before smashing home from 20 yards. The Italians’ slow improvement as the Euros have reached the latter stages has been vintage stuff and their class has been clear for everyone to see following their performances against England and Germany in the knockouts. The Azzurri has a habit of either bowing out of competitions early or reaching the business end of it. In 11 World Cups after progressing from the groups they have won four out of the six finals they’ve reached meaning they have finished as runners-up twice. The other five times have seen them finish in 3rd place in 1990, 4th in 1978 with the otherthree ending in one quarter-final defeat and two round-of-16 defeats. They have only won the Euros once previously, back in 1968. The World Cup before that in ’66 saw them out in the groups which also happened in 2010 and now they are 2012 finalists so omens are with the Italians along with their great pedigree in tournament football for this Sunday’s final.
The Spanish, like the Italians, have slowly eased their way into the tournament as the matches have gone on. They finished top of Group C with seven points out of nine, scoring six goals. They drew against Italy 1-1 in their opening game before destroying Ireland 4-0 and edging out Croatia 1-0. The performance over France was impressive as well as dominant but Thursday’s game saw them endure some nervy moments against Portugal before their triumph on penalties. The manner in which they won the game may have been cruel as Fàbregas’ penalty hit the inside of the post before beating Rui Patrício but great sides win tough matches and this Spanish side is beyond great as they look to become the first international team to win three straight major tournaments in a row. If they achieve this then they are arguably and quite possibly the greatest international football side ever.
The Spanish’s “tiki-taka” style of football is breath-taking to watch and since the team’s victory in Euro 2008 they had the world observing in awe, further success continued at the 2010 World Cup but some people are beginning to brand the football as boring. It consists of mainly keeping hold of possession where the whole team, mainly midfielders, base the team’s play on movement and roaming with quick, sharp one- or two-touch passing. One of its main focuses is also moving the ball in intricate patterns with positional interchange. The Spanish may not have the great footballing history that the Italian’s possess but this particular style of play has captured the imagination of football and revolutionised football as teams look to find a way of recreating the “Spanish way” or finding a way to counter tiki-taka and with their current crop of extraordinarily talented players, nobody would be shocked if Spain were to make history this Sunday by beating Italy, especially as Del Bosque has won 50 matches out of the 60 he has took charge Spain’s manager.
One thing is for sure, Sunday’s match should be entertaining for all football fans around the world. The Italians are the only team to score against Spain so far in the Euro’s when Antonio Di Natale put Italy 1-0 up before Cesc Fàbregas equalised in the teams’ 1-1 draw. Italy don’t quite equal the Spanish in terms of class but they are well organised, they have lots of heart and the likes of Pirlo and Balotelli can turn the game in any given moment. Spain have a whole team full of match winners but without a main focal point up front Del Bosque has a big decision to make this Sunday with regards to whether Torres should start or if he should stick with the six midfielders. The match will have its nervy spells but with both teams encouraging attractive football, it should surely deliver in being a great ending to this year’s European Championships and don’t be surprised if the Italians reign supreme in Kiev.