Spain thrashed Italy 4-0 to lift the Euro 2012 trophy in Kiev. Xavi and Iniesta ruled the midfield as goals from David Silva, Jordi Alba, Fernando Torres and Juan Mata completed the routing of Italians who were banking on individual brilliance of Pirlo and Balotelli.
“He that can have patience can have what he will.” – Benjamin Franklin
Quite clearly, patience is one attribute that defines this Spanish team in the most apposite possible context. It takes great levels of patience, enormous diligence and a fundamental belief in the power of your system to produce the success Spain have in the last four years. Patience, in fact, quite literally associates with the Spanish style of football that relies on demonstrating an unparalleled grit to hold on to the ball on the field, wearing out the opposition and waiting for that one opportunity to unlock their defence and trouble the scorers.
Despite the stark criticism of the system that was deemed too ‘indirect’, ‘boring’ and unnecessarily intricate for the fans’ liking, not even once Vicente Del Bosque would have been even remotely bothered about the unwarranted remarks coming his team’s way. And more importantly he made sure his players were not distracted off the playing ways quite categorically defined for them.
The general levels of quality in the squad that Del Bosque has mainly inherited from the world’s two biggest clubs – Barcelona and Real Madrid – makes his job relatively easier. But that is not where it ends; far from it in fact. Being the defending champions and having won football’s biggest prize in between, the pressure to match the weight of expectations is unimaginable. Despite the Spanish not having been able to set the tournament ablaze on their way to the final by any stretch of imagination, the last ninety minutes perfectly underlined the difference between champions and challengers.
It all boiled down to the telling difference in quality between the two teams as the Spanish exuberance coupled with their intelligence and experience to deliver on the big days was just too much to handle for Cesare Prandelli led Italy. Two goals each scored on either side of half time by Silva, Alba, Torres and Mata completed what could be termed an absolute routing of the Italians who were honestly expected to do much more than they did. 4-0 is not ideally the scoreline you would expect in the final of Europe’s biggest international competition but such was the night when Italy could not even force Spain hard-earn their victory, let alone stop them.
11’ First clear opportunity came for Spain that also displayed the intent with which they had come in. Despite not playing with any classic striker, they were not going to shy away from aiming at Buffon’s goal. Fabregas dragged three defenders out of their position, turned around and delicately put a ball for Xavi to latch onto. The Barcelona wizard struck with power but his curling strike went inches over the bar after having surpassed Buffon’s reach.
14’ Perhaps it was only a matter of time. An extremely well measured ball from Iniesta was successfully chased by Fabregas down right outrunning Chiellini. Cesc turned the ball towards the goal and immediately provided a not-so-perfect cross but it was met with great power and precision by Silva. Buffon was already out of position and the Manchester City playmaker’s header put the ball in the top left corner.
1-0 Spain; Goal: David Silva; Assist: Cesc Fabregas
20’ Giorgio Chiellini’s damaged knee forced his withdrawal from the rest of the game and entered Federico Balzaretti to replace him on the left. To the surprise of many, the Palermo man was far more menacing going forward and kept Arbeloa in good check for the rest of the first half. In fact, Italy looked the better side for the next twenty minutes, or did Spain make them look?
41’ You got to respect that guy Xavi Hernandez. Just when it looked like Italy might make a game out of this, the passing machine delivered a wonderful, weighted pass to which a bombarding Jordi Alba met before any Italian defender could. The soon-to-be Barca man with his pace on the ball easily outran the chasing blue shirts and was pretty decisive with his finishing touch that ensured Buffon was with no chance to stop the lead go double.
2-0 Spain; Goal: Jordi Alba; Assist: Xavi Hernandez
51’ After starting the second half brightly, this was Italy’s biggest opportunity from the game to open the scoring account. Montolivo created the chance with his inside pass on the left to half time substitute Di Natale who on the turn shot from a difficult angle. The powerful strike was immediately deflected away by Casillas only for the ball to fall at Di Natale’s feet again who aimed for Balotelli’s head in front of goal but his spineless attempt only met the hands of Casillas. Spain survived the first and perhaps only real scare from the game.
61’ Thiago Motta, only minutes after replacing Montolivo, found himself with the troubled hamstring that summed up the night for him. Adding insult to the ‘injury’, his was the third and final substitution that Prandelli had exercised which meant Italy would play the remaining half an hour with numerical disadvantage; as if being inferior in quality was not intimidating enough.
84’ A Daniele De Rossi misplaced pass is not a regular sight but on the night it came with a very costly price tag attached to it which Italy dearly paid. With only minutes left before the final whistle, all Italy were doing was to stop the misery from aggravating. A De Rossi pass, intended for Pirlo fell at Xavi’s feet and needless to say, he once again delivered an exquisite pass for the second half substitute Fernando Torres who was in no mood to miss it this time. In a one-on-one with Buffon, Torres calmly finished taking the scoreline to 3-0. With his third goal in the tournament, Torres won the golden boot having played the least number of minutes of all those who were tied with him. Ironic or fortunate, in what arguably is his most indifferent season, he has won both individual awards and team honours of highest relevance and repute.
3-0 Spain; Goal: Fernando Torres; Assist: Xavi Hernandez
88’ Fortune favours the Chelsea men. Juan Mata did not enjoy a single minute on the pitch before this game and when he was presented the final four minutes of playing time he’d have hardly though he’d end up scoring as many goals in the tournament as Pirlo did. Torres once again ran in on a well manoeuvred Xavi pass and forced Buffon wide before guiding the ball inside to his Chelsea teammate. Mata faced absolutely no problems in taking his team to a sumptuous four goal lead.
4-0 Spain; Goal: Juan Mata; Assist: Fernando Torres
Starting Lineup And Tactics
Spain [4-6-0]: Casillas; Arbeola, Pique, Ramos, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Xabi; Silva, Cesc, Iniesta
Italy [4-3-1-2]: Buffon; Abate, Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Marchisio, Pirlo, De Rossi; Montolivo; Cassano, Balotelli
There were no surprises thrown by either of the managers with their starting team-sheets and perhaps the occasion was too big to experiment. However, the positional play, particularly for Spain and as a consequent effect for Italy differed from the other games these two teams had played in the tournament. Del Bosque was always expected to have done his home-work and he was flexible enough to change his tactics ever so slightly to ensure a smooth sailing past a team that boasted of a central midfield that could have matched the might of the Spanish.
The striker-less tactical diagram remained the same but the passing movement was much more linear than one usually observes with the Spain midfield. The idea was quite clear – the Italian maestro Andrea Pirlo was to be overlapped with every single Spanish move as Del Bosque did not want to allow him even a single opportunity to dictate play from his own half. Xavi and Iniesta perfectly carried the orders and the result was there for everyone to see. Things could not have been anymore out of Pirlo’s control though the man himself was far from anonymous in the game.
With the advantage of retrospect, you may say Prandelli perhaps should have deployed a player on the right of his midfield who could have terrorized Jordi Alba with his running on the flank – how solid the player could have proved defensively while tracking back is anyone’s guess though. However, with no intent showed by Italy to add width from right, Jordi Alba advanced much more confidently and his encounters with Abate on the right were virtually a no-contest. Abate himself frequented the final third from right but his crosses hardly carried any potency.
Xavi, Iniesta & Pirlo – The Three Most Important Men On The Field
The build-up to this final was pretty interesting and it was a popular consensus that with the two teams boasting of three of the greatest visionary passers of the modern game, it should be a fantastic contest with Xavi and Iniesta teaming up to negate Pirlo’s impact on the proceedings. Pirlo had been Italy’s and arguably tournament’s best player coming in to this game and it was almost accepted should he manage to have another good game, Italy’s game will automatically be elevated.
However, one very important point to note is that in none of the games Pirlo had played so far, he was pressed enough to lessen his time on the ball. Pirlo is a player who prefers to play behind the ball with at least one of the midfielders playing alongside him compromising on his own attacking ambitions and provide Pirlo the defensive cover. To counter this, all Spain needed to do was swiftly moving the ball between them in quick exchange of passes that forced Pirlo come forward out of his comfort zone to win the ball.
|Player||Passes Attempted||Accuracy (%)|
Spain kept engineering their complex passing triangles and were easily able to isolate Pirlo who managed nomore than 57 passes on the night. This meant Pirlo was rather forced to resort to his long balls – something which he did at will against Germany and England. With little space and time on ball, his long balls were far from impactful with only 4 being successful out of 9 attempted. In contrast, the 10 he attempted against Germany were all met by the intended target. With the top triumvirate of Spain’s midfield suppressing Italy’s central midfield to this extent, the other three enjoyed a great luxury in building up to the attack. Xavi, Xabi and Iniesta amassed 246 passes between them with an average completion rate of over 85%. Xavi and Xabi played 16 long balls with 15 of them being accurate. Iniesta, who played further up but kept drifting inside attempted 5 through balls with 2 of them being successful.
|Pirlo Against||Passes Attempted||Accuracy (%)|
The pressing managed by Spain forced Italy to prematurely play long balls that were initiated from positions even deeper than Pirlo himself does from. Leonardo Bonucci and Daniele De Rossi attempted to find Balotelli and Cassano in the opposition half with their long balls right after winning possession inside or near the box. Though 15 out of the 19 long balls collectively attempted by them were successful, they were not productive enough since they often found their target in a position where the receiving player could have done little – Clearly, there’s only one Pirlo in the Italian team.
Substitutions – Prandelli Fumbled, Del Bosque Spot On
Silva <–> Pedro…………………………………………………………………………Chiellini <–> Balzaretti
Fabregas <–> Torres…………………………………………………………………..Cassano <–> Di Natale
Iniesta <–> Mata……………………………………………………………………… . Montolivo <–> Motta
While things went as planned right from the start to the end for Del Bosque and the bench was only a luxury to him, the case was exactly the opposite for Prandelli and he carefully needed to play his cards. Things started to go haywire when he was forced to introduce Balzaretti only twenty minutes into the first half.
His halftime exclusion of Cassano was pretty baffling even by Rafa Benitez’s standards. Though the numbers spoke modest for Cassano’s showing in the first half, he was one of the few players in Italy who could have ignited a creative spark potential of translating into a goal. Di Natale is certainly a better finisher but he could do little in assisting the build-up.
Taking Montolivo off who had a very decent game till that point was another decision that may raise questions. In fact, right before his substitution, Montolivo had actually started to link up effectively with Pirlo and had created Italy’s best scoring opportunity from the game.
Del Bosque on the other hand, perhaps intended to kill the game well before time to leave no scope for surprises towards the end. His move introducing Torres therefore made all the sense in the world and it immediately paid rich dividends. Torres scored one and created one for the late substitute Mata to complete the humiliation for Italy. David Silva however, was the first one to be taken off and be replaced by Pedro at the stroke of an hour. The most noticeable moment from Pedro’s part in the game was his Robinho-esque miss right in front of goal – rather thankfully he was declared offside.
Winning Mentality – The Mantra Of The Day
A large chunk of Spanish players have already been there and done that before. Barring few exceptions, most of these players were part of the winning squads in 2008 and 2010 and know what it takes to deliver in a big game. Italy on the other hand, apart from Buffon, Pirlo and De Rossi were devoid of players who have tasted success at international level. The difference clearly showed in the application of the two sides as Spain played their best game on the biggest day and in complete contrast, Italy had saved their worst for the last.
Vicente Del Bosque deserves all the plaudits in the world for having maintained the same level of hunger in this unit that has been quite ‘used to’ winning by now. He has adequately gelled the players coming from two of the most vocal quarters of Spain – Madrid and Barcelona – in a harmonious setup; players who are otherwise invariably seen at loggerheads during El Clasico nights. This Spanish national side has now successively won the third piece of most coveted silverwares and there are no signs of them running out of steam any time soon.
All the stats courtesy whoscored.com