Ahhh…. the final of Euro 2012 is upon us and it pits defending European and World champs Spain against Italy. These two teams met earlier on in a fascinating Group C fixture which ended 1-1. Spain have been very stingy defensively and have maintained their regular quota of possession normally approaching 60% or more. They have lacked a cutting edge offensively however and this can be attributed to the loss of David Villa and the indifferent form of Fernando Torres this year. Coach Vicente del Bosque has therefore used a system without a striker where one of the midfielders would operate as the furthest advanced in a ‘false nine’ position. This task has generally been given to Cesc Fabregas with David Silva alternating with him in that role against Italy. The concept of a ‘strikerless’ formation is not the ideal tactic but is beautiful when there is a team with quality midfielders who are comfortable and versed at verticality and making runs from deep to get on the end of through balls. Indeed Spain equalised against Italy with this tactic and when using a forward in other games did not excel barring the Ireland game. Spain have looked threatening when introducing wingers Navas and Pedro late in games and I expect del Bosque to do the same in the final. On another note Spain’s back four has been resolute in this tournament and they have conceded one goal in 5 games. Sergio Ramos has been solid and goalkeeper Iker Casillas has not put a foot wrong. However, the real find for Spain has been leftback Jordi Alba who has defended and attacked superbly.
Is Spain boring?
This has been the cry of some fans recently. The relentless Spanish possession has been lulling them to sleep so to speak. Spain’s game in their recent domination of world football has been based on keeping possession which is a defensive and offensive tactic. They are bent on controlling the game and this takes away the chance of a spectacle for the fans of end to end football which creates excitement. Teams also change their style when they meet Spain in an attempt to stifle their effectiveness and this tends to create stalemates in midfield. Spain’s strength is their midfield and crowding the centre of the pitch and closing down space contributes to boring games at times. This is especially so as Spain does not play with much width. We must remember that France played with two rightbacks, benched their playmaker Nasri and crowded the midfield to stifle Spain.
Boring? NO!, Predictable? Sometimes yes!
The Italians have surprised many including yours truly with an entertaining brand of football featuring lovely passing movements and quick breaks into attack. Italian sides have become renowned for a ‘defence first’ approach but coach Cesare Prandelli has spearheaded a shift in philosophy towards a more attacking nature. Italy now play a fairly high defensive line and also play with a midfield diamond. Prandelli has not hid the fact that Italy’s strength is in their midfield and he has sought to build his side around the outstanding deep lying playmaker, Andrea Pirlo. Pirlo, Montolivo, Marchisio and De Rossi have made up the four and when teams neutralise Pirlo in his natural position in front of the back four it is common for De Rossi to drop deep to compensate. The system employed is geared to allow Pirlo to dictate and create opportunities. The versatility of Italy’s midfielders has been impressive. They can all pass, tackle, defend and attack. The two talented forwards, Cassano and Balotelli, are unpredictable and potentially explosive as Balotelli showed in the semi final against Germany with his brace of goals. Italy has always been famous for great defenders and whilst their defence may not compare to great defences of the past I would single out Andrea Barzagli as one of the best defenders I have seen in Euro 2012. He missed the opening two matches due to injury but the Juventus stopper was immense against England and Germany.
New Italy? YES!
I can’t call a winner for this final. I expect a tight,low scoring game that may go past 90 minutes.