Spain vs. Italy: UEFA Euro 2012 Final Match Preview
Maybe Group C was the real group of death. With Spain and Italy having ousted the two group of death survivors Portugal and Germany, in the semi-finals. Tomorrow’s Euro 2012 final sets up a re-match of the opening 1-1 draw in which the Azzuri ended Spain’s 14-macth winning streak in competitive matches.
Vicente del Bosque’s Spain come into this match looking to become the first back-to-back winners of the European championship and the first side to win three straight majors (Euro 2008 and the 2012 World Cup.) The current side are currently on a major roll, having won 32 of the last 35 competitive matches.
After ending Germany’s 15-game winning streak, Italy have definitely proved their worth in the competition. Cesare Prandelli’s side were ranked outsiders at the start of the tournament, but now they have a great chance to prove their critics wrong. This would be a perfect way to make up for the 2010 World Cup failure.
Spain’s Road to the Euro 2012 Final
Spain was fortunate to be in a relatively easy group for Euro 2012, with Croatia, Italy and Ireland rounding out Group C.
In Spain’s first group game, they played a somewhat underdog team in Italy, and yet only tied the game 1-1. Before the tournament, Italy was rocked by match fixing allegations in the Serie A. These issues were expected to have a negative effect on the Italian team, but they might have helped reduce the pressure, as Italy, despite long odds, are in the final.
Next, Spain dominated an Irish team who were just happy they qualified for the tournament. The final score was 4-0, with two goals by the Spanish striker Torres. Spain looked themselves in this match, and quickly removed any fears generated from their tie with Italy.
In Spain’s final group game, they played a fairly good Croatian team that tied Italy 1-1. Spain put on a passing clinic and characteristically beat Croatia 1-0 to advance to the Euro Cup quarterfinals.
Spain played France in the Euro Cup 2012 Quarterfinal match, and won 2-0 after an incredibly uneventful game. Some claimed the Spanish lulled the French to sleep, or perhaps the French didn’t even know a soccer game was occurring. Either way, Spain advanced, and France showed the world they could not compete.
Spain’s Semi-final match was a much anticipated clash with Portugal. Many of the Spanish and Portuguese players play for either Barcelona or Real Madrid. In this Euro Semi-final game, Portugal did what France couldn’t do, they put high pressure on Spain and forced them to kick long balls and give uncharacteristic turnovers.
Portugal’s performance outlined how the Spanish could be stopped, with both teams possessing an almost equal chance of winning. The game remained scoreless, and as it went into overtime, Spain looked more and more likely to score. In the end, after 120 Minutes, Spain won in a Penalty shootout beating Portugal 4-2.
Italy’s Road to the Euro 2012 Final
Italy began the Euro Cup tournament with the air buzzing about match fixing and players being investigated from Italy’s home league, Serie A. It was up for debate as to whether Italy would be able to even advance from their group, group C. With formidable opponents in Spain as well as a strong Croatian side, Italy would have to put any problems aside an focus on playing the game.
As mentioned above, Italy played Spain in the first group match. Most expected Spain to dominate Italy. But Italy did enough and found a way to reach a 1-1 draw against the defending World Cup and Euro Cup champions.
Italy’s second group game was against Croatia, who had won their first game against Ireland. An incredible first half free kick by Pirlo gave Italy the lead. However, in the second half Croatia got a goal, to leave the game 1-1 at the end. Pirlo’s spectacular performance was only the start of a series of inspiring games played by the Italian midfielder.
The last game of the group stage was a must win for Italy against Ireland. While most expected Italy to win, Ireland put up a fight in an effort to leave the tournament with at least points on the board. The final score was 2-0 in Italy’s favor, and allowed Italy to advance second in their group behind Spain.
Italy played England for the quarter-final match in an interesting situation where neither team had been expected to make it much further. Both teams played hard, with Pirlo organizing a continuous Italian attack while England fiercely defended their goal. After 120 minutes, the game was still tied at 0-0, but the Italians certainly deserved to have won. In the ensuing Penalty Kick shootout, Italy got what they deserved and won their Euro Cup quarterfinal 4-2 on PK’s.
Italy faced a mountain to climb for their Euro Cup semifinal game in the form of Germany. Germany was unbeaten in the competition and most were predicting a German win not only in the semifinal, but even in the final against Spain. The Italian strategy was to fill the midfield, and rely on their striker to make something happen, and he did not disappoint. Mario Balotelli scored twice in the first half for the Italian side which seemed to daze Germany and they were never able to recover. The final score was 2-1 after Germany was awarded a late Penalty Kick from a handball. With this result, Italy proudly made their way to the final.
Vicente del Bosque is expected to have a fully-fit squad for the Euro 2012 final showdown with Italy.
The 61-year-old’s biggest selection dilemma is likely to be over whether to field a recognised striker after Alvaro Negredo’s anonymous performance in the semi-final win over Portugal.
With Fernando Torres seemingly out of favour, and with Fernando Llorente yet to make an appearance at the tournament, Cesc Fabregas could be restored to a ‘false nine’ role up front alongside Andres Iniesta and David Silva.
Italy defender Ignazio Abate, who missed the semi-final win over Germany with a muscle injury, is likely to return to fitness in time for the final, while fellow full-back Christian Maggio is also available after serving a one-match ban.
Coach Cesare Prandelli may persist with the same formation that served him well against the Germans rather than revert to the unorthodox 3-5-2 line-up used in the opening match against Spain.
AC Milan-bound Riccardo Montolivo is likely to keep his place in the team ahead of Thiago Motta after an assured performance in the semi-final.
Ramos v Balotelli
With Carles Puyol ruled out by injury, Ramos has cemented his place as Gerard Pique’s partner at the heart of Spain’s defence. His replica of Andre Pirlo’s penalty in the semi-final shootout win over Portugal demonstrated his confidence. Balotelli appears to be maturing before our very eyes at Euro 2012. His form and attitude were questioned in Italy’s first two games but he has been almost unplayable since scoring as a substitute against Republic of Ireland.
Xavi v Pirlo
A mouth-watering showdown between two of the best passers ever to grace the game. Xavi’s status as an all-time great has already been assured but he has yet to hit the heights in Poland and Ukraine and will be desperate to do so on Sunday. Pirlo has been peerless for Italy and almost has the Player of the Tournament award wrapped up ahead of the final.
Iniesta v Balzaretti
If Spain decide not to play a striker, their midfield will have to fill the void and no-one is more capable of doing so than Iniesta, whose goal settled the 2010 World Cup. The 28-year-old also likes to drift out wide, where he will doubtless come up against Balzaretti. The Juventus defender has excelled going forward at both left-back and right-back at Euro 2012.
Despite Italy’s excellent and deserved victory over Germany in the semi-finals and, for that matter, Spain’s underwhelming penalty win over Portugal, the holders will rightly remain as favourites to win come Sunday.
There is no doubting, however, that Italy are finding their form at the right time and will provide a stern test for the World and European champions, who come into the game with uncertainty over their attacking tactic.
Many have said that Spain’s style is becoming boring, but they won’t mind or change the way they play, so expect them to dominate possession as ever and wait for their chances, with a moment of brilliance potentially deciding this one.
However, Spain looked tired in the semi-final; it is tempting to declare that this is the perfect time to play them. This is a side that is used to obliterating everything in its way. The Azzurri may have defied the odds to come this far, but they have all the weapons they need to hurt their opponents on the counter.
One huge reason both are still standing is the stellar play of their captains and goalkeepers—maybe the two best in the world right now—Spain’s Iker Casillas (Real Madrid) and Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus).
Casillas has allowed just one goal (to Italy’s Antonio Di Natale in the opener), and Spain is on a mind-boggling run of nine straight shutouts in knockout rounds of major tournaments, with the last goal being scored on them coming in the 2006 World Cup, by France’s Zinedine Zidane.
Although not as statistically impressive as La Furia Roja’s defensive dominance, Italy’s Buffon has allowed just three goals in five matches—one on an extra-time penalty kick by Germany’s Mesut Özil on Thursday—and was the main man behind Juventus’s undefeated season
So as usual in big games in all sports, the defenses should prevail here.
As they do against all opponents, Spain won the possession battle (60-40 percent) in the Group C opener and topped Italy in total attempts (18-10) and shots on target (9-4), but they needed a second-half Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona) equalizer in the game to get the draw.
So this one is basically anyone’s game and, quite honestly, a match to best just be watched and not to be wagered on.
There’s no question Pirlo has been the engine that makes Italy’s attack go. He’s been the Man of the Match three times, his passing has been exquisite, and he’s proven to be a major danger on free kicks.
While Spain’s entire midfield is the definition of beautiful, Pirlo has taken care of that all by himself. He will be a huge factor once again in the finals
With Pirlo running things in the middle and Mario Balotelli keeping his head on straight, Italy have the attack to go with their terrific defense. Their semi-final proved that.
Spain, on the other hand, have problems both in the back and up front
It’s going to a very tight game that’s for sure. But if Italy perform like they did against Germany, they have all it takes to win Euro 2012.