Olympic Stadium, Kyiv
Sunday, July 1, 2012; 18:45 Hrs GMT
When Italy and Spain played out an enthralling 1-1 draw in their opening group game, Spanish media picked their opponents as the team they are likely to face in final. They were proved right as the Azzurris dished out an almost spotless performance to knock out overwhelming favourites Germany in semi-final to set up the grand finale against La Furia Roja. If the group league game is anything to go by, we can have a classic match on our hands on Sunday.
Team News And Tactical Brief
Save one, no European team has been as dominant as the current Spanish time over a period of time. The great West German side of Beckenbaur and Gerd Muller reached three consecutive finals (Euros 1972 and 1976, 1974 World Cup) but won only two titles. Therefore, Spain has a chance of creating history when they line-up against Italy in the final. However, Vicente del Bosque will have some headaches before the match.
Despite reaching the final, Spain has often looked vulnerable in Euro 2012. Their demolition of lowly Ireland and rife-torn France were the only matches when Spain looked their best. Against Portugal in the semi-final, La Furia Roja was largely kept quiet during 90 minutes. Portugal’s excellent pressing and closing down of spaces meant that Spain created little, failing to notch a shot on goal in regulation time. Spain squeezed part Portugal in the tie-breaker but their performance left a lot to be desired.
Failure of Negredo and del Bosque’s move to replace him with Fabregas means that Spain is likely to retain the 4-6-0 formation against Italy. That tactic didn’t work particularly well against Italians in the group game but del Bosque cannot afford to drop Cesc Fabregas, a player who has delivered for Spain on the big stage on multiple occasions. Fernando Torres had a solid impact after coming on as a sub against Italy and is likely to repeat that role in the final as well.
Sergio Ramos had a particularly poor match against Italy but his form has steadily improved since and he was perhaps Spain’s best player in the semi-final. The midfield will once again see the classic encounter between Andrea Pirlo and Xavi. In terms of individual play, Pirlo has been better than Xavi in Euro 2012 but the Barcelona playmaker will like to set the record straight in final.
Spain’s most dangerous player is Andrés Iniesta. Iniesta was the only Spanish attacker who troubled Italy in the first match when others struggled and is a proven big match player, as his goal in the World Cup final will attest. Iniesta is one of the most difficult players to mark in world football with his deceptive movement and perfect positioning. His telepathic understanding with Xavi has been a driving force behind Spain’s success and his performance may decide the final in the end.
Complaints have risen against the current Spanish team for their lack of directness and for playing too many passes amongst themselves. However, as England and Germany found out direct play is not necessarily the best way to open up this Italian defence. The Spanish style of elaborate pattern-play is likely to cause more problems to Chiellini and co.
Possible Starting XI (4-6-0): Casillas; Arbeloa, Pique, Ramos, Alba; Iniesta, Xavi, Busquets, Alonso, Fabregas, Silva.
Spain Spain Spain
Scandals and Italians, it’s incredible isn’t it? Few gave Italy a chance to progress to the final, despite an encouraging performance against the world champions. But, here they are playing in their first Euro final in 12 years. Success in big tournaments and Italy was never too far apart but what makes Prandelli’s side unique is the brand of football they played so far. For once, neutrals fell in love with the men in azure blue. Italy has defended strongly in every match but they have also come out of their shell and created many scoring chances in every game. Poor finishing from strikers means that Italy’s goals scored section doesn’t do proper justice to the number of attempts they had.
Two players have been outstanding for Italy till now – Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi. The veterans of 2006 World Cup have barely put a foot wrong. Pirlo has dictated the tempo in every game he has played till now. With 1 goal, 2 assists and 87% pass success rate, the Juventus midfielder has been the driving force behind Italy’s run to the final. Even in the games where he didn’t notch up a goal or direct assist he has made telling contributions – like the goal-line clearance against Germany and the decisive penalty against England.
De Rossi, on the other hand, has made his dodgy form for Italy of last 2 years a thing of the past. The Roma talisman has thrived in every position he played till now, be it central defence or midfield. With 12 successful tackles and 15 interceptions, De Rossi has been a rock for Italy and could have gotten on the score-sheet if he hadn’t struck the post against England.
The Juventus quadruple of Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Gianluigi Buffon has all carried their club forms to Euro 2012. Buffon has not had to make too many saves till now but he has come up to trumps whenever called into action. Barzagli has been dishing out quiet but solid performances in every match, typifying his club form. Leonardo Bonucci, on the other hand, has improved by leaps and bounds during this tournament. The ex-Bari defender was expected to be a weak link but he has proved all his critics wrong.
Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano are finally showing signs of combining well. The Manchester City striker was on a different level against Germany as he effectively ended the match with a first half brace. With three goals against his name, Super Mario is firm favourite to win top scorer award and Italy will be looking towards the enigmatic striker to repeat his semi-final heroics. Ricardo Motolivo, who has often been derided for his performance for Italy has also performed superbly in last 2 matches.
Possible Starting XI (4-3-1-2): Buffon; Abate, Bonucci, Barzagli, Chiellini; De Rossi, Marchisio, Pirlo; Montolivo; Balotelli, Cassano
Spain has never defeated Italy in regulation time in a major tournament.
Spain has enjoyed 66.8% average possession in their matches, Italy 53.2%
Italy leads the tally for shots on goal with 99 against Spain’s 87 but the latter with 36 shots, has 6 more shots on target.
Italy has not trailed for a single minute in Euro 2012.
Pirlo v Xavi
In a clash which will delight football lovers across the world, two veterans will square off, possibly for the last time in international football. Their stats are staggering. Xavi has strung 465 successful passes till now, Pirlo, 320. The origin of most attacks for their respective teams, these two players will try to wrest control of the midfield as well as tempo of the match as early as possible. The one who succeeds is likely to decide the final.
Iniesta v De Rossi
Don Andrés is usually the player who is allowed maximum freedom of movement in Spanish side, rightly so. However, if Italy give him too much space then he is likely to cause them a world of problems. Daniele de Rossi not only has experience of big matches but also is in wonderful form. The Roma hard-man is likely to have the task of marking Iniesta.
Balotelli v Ramos
Balotelli caused Ramos a lot of problems when these two teams met earlier. Most notably, he robbed Ramos off in second half to set himself up for an easy one on one with Casillas. With Super Mario hitting form and Gerrard Pique not reaching his usual level, the task of keeping the Italian striker quiet will fall on Ramos’ shoulders.
Blast From the Past
Each of the last two meetings between these two teams in knock-out rounds has produced sparks. Spain lined up against Italy in Euro 2008 quarter-final knowing that they had never got past the Azzurris in a major tournament. Italy was without Rino Gattuso and Pirlo and was outplayed in midfield. However, a young Chiellini dished out a heroic performance as Spain struggled to breakdown Italian defence. In the tie-breaker, De Rossi and Di Natale missed spot kicks to send Spain on way to their first Euro trophy in over 5 decades.
Arrigo Sacchi’s rejuvenated Italian side met Spain in quarter-final of 1994 World Cup. Dino Baggio’s beautiful goal put Italy ahead but Caminero equalized for Spain in second half. The same player missed an open net to give Spain the lead. Minutes before the final whistle Giuseppe Signori set up Roberto Baggio who scored a trademark goal by rounding Zubizarretta. There was some late controversy as Bergomi’s elbow to Luis Enrique’s face was not called by the referee, Rodrigo Badilla.
Players to watch out for
Spain – Iniesta, Xavi, Fabregas, Xabi
Italy – Pirlo, De Rossi, Balotelli, Cassano
Spain 1-0 Italy
It will be a closely fought and tactical encounter but Spain’s superior experience of playing in big matches will see them through.