European Championship final: Spain v Italy preview
Published: 01.07.12 / Written by: David Gold
Spain face Italy in a final few would have predicted a few weeks ago.
Italy beat Germany in the semi-final after shocking the favourites for the tournament 2-1 with a stunning display. It was a performance of control, defence and attack by Cesare Prandelli’s side. Conversely, Spain laboured for much of the semi-final with Portugal, before bursting to life in extra time. Their dominance in the last 30 minutes earned them a deserved win on penalties.
So the final on Sunday in Kiev, Ukraine, will be the same two teams who played their opening game against each other in Gdansk, Poland three weeks’ ago. Spain have not sparkled as many thought they would, but then Italy have been underrated by most during the tournament and until Thursday night. The two teams being tipped the most before the tournament, Germany and the Netherlands, are out.
What makes this game so intriguing is that no one really knows the tactical system that Prandelli will employ. His three man defence worked well in the opening game against Spain when they drew 1-1. But then the system in the last three games has worked very well too. It is a sharp contrast from their shocking pre-Euro 2012 form.
For Spain, they have dilemmas too. Without Carles Puyol they still look solid at the back, but going forward they have often not used a centre forward in David Villa’s absence. Cesc Fabregas has been playing as a ‘false nine’. Vincente del Bosque hardly seems enamoured with either Fernando Torres or Alvaro Negredo, who was poor against Portugal. The problem he will have here is that Italy are very strong in the midfield, but give teams space on the flanks. Therefore his three man attack, really made up of midfielders, could back fire. Particularly as the two ‘wide’ men in his system, Andres Iniesta and David Silva, are forever cutting inside onto their stronger feet.
That would seem to play right into Italian hands. Against Germany Italy at times looked as though they were playing with a back three, with Federico Balzaretti and Giorgio Chiellini taking turns to sit in the centre alongside Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci. And with Italy’s four central midfielders playing in a rotating pivot with Andrea Pirlo at the base, they constantly have players in the centre of the pitch. It means Italy’s players always have options, and defend well because they congest the space in which creative teams thrive. And most teams in this tournament have been creative. It is notable that Italy struggled most to break down England, along with a poor Ireland team the only non-creative attacking team they have faced.
Germany were the team Italy thrived against most, because they attack so much. Italy are brilliant with space, and look to get the ball quickly behind defenders to attackers. So when Germany push up, they quickly punished them with quick balls out to Mario Balotelli, Antonio Cassano and the rest.
Spain will need to note this but are not a team suited to sitting back. They will as ever look to get the ball and dominate possession, and are probably the team best suited to stifling Italy. They can throttle the game through tiki-taka passing. The mantra of the opposition can’t hurt you if they don’t have the ball applies doubly when Andrea Pirlo is involved. By keeping the ball, Spain can limit the Juventus man’s effectiveness.
But Italy are coming into this game strong. Tactically they have posed a set of new questions no one has really answered yet. Everyone knows how this Spain team play, and they have been tired. If they choose the wrong players on Sunday, and don’t go for width and direct runners like Pedro and Jesus Navas, Italy will probably win. Half their team play for Juventus, who went the whole season unbeaten. That mentality will serve them will this Sunday, and it should shock no one if the Azzurri are crowned European champions for a second time.