Saturday, 30 June 2012

On The Verge Of History?

14th European Championship Final: Spain V Italy, Olympic Stadium, Kiev (Sunday 19:45 BST)
The Henry Delaunay Trophy awaits the winners tomorrow

Looking back at the recent history of the Europrean Championships, it’s amazing to see how many times group opponents have went on and contested the final.  The Netherlands lost to the old USSR in their opening game in 1988 and then went on to win the tournament, beating the USSR in the final.  Germany beat the Czech Republic at Old Trafford in their opening game and faced them again at Wembley in 1996, while Portugal lost their opening match to Greece before reaching the final on their own patch before losing to Greece again in 2004.  One wonders what will happen tomorrow when Spain, bidding to become the first side to retain the European Championships, face off against Italy three weeks after a 1-1 draw in Gdansk opened both sides campaign.

Spain probably start the final as slight favourites.  They have been here before, and have all the tools to win this again.  The only problem is Del Bosque’s persistence with the 4-6 formation (or more accurately the 4-2-4-0 formation – despite the consensus from Spain, Fabregas is not playing in the “False 9” position).  This formation has given Spain a vice like grip on games, the downside is that they have not been able to put sides to the sword in the fashion that they should have. 

In this respect, this is confirming what I thought at the start of the tournament that Spain is missing David Villa.  This is what has fostered the belief among journalists and fans that Spain are maybe “boring”.  Personally, I find them more frustrating, the lack of incisiveness has not done for Spain yet but may come back to haunt them.  I feel that it’s also worth pointing out that Spain have looked shaky at the back as well – both in the group games against Italy and Croatia and in the semi final against Portugal (who caused problems by imitating Spain’s aggressive pressing game).  The one upside of Spain’s 4-6 formation has been listening to Mark Bright on the point of spontaneously combusting with anger any time Spain play without a striker.
Di Natale scores in the 1-1 draw with Spain three weeks ago in Gdansk

Italy have two survivors from their World Cup win six years ago Andreas Pirlo and Gianluiggi Buffon, yet the way they stopped the Germans from playing was impressive.  Apart from the Spain game, Italy have played essentially a variation of 4-4-2, with Pirlo dropping behind the midfield and orchestrating the play from a midfield anchor position.  Prandelli does have a quandary in this respect, does he stick with his 4-4-2 or does he revert to the formation he employed against Spain in the opening game where they played 3-5-2 with De Rossi operating as a sweeper.  Whatever game plan he goes with, Italy must be commended for playing with two up front – a rarity at the highest level of International football.

I think that despite the fact that this Italy side is not as good as Spain, I think that this match is too close to call.  I kind of have a sneaky feeling for Italy, maybe after extra time. That of course depends on whether Spain has their shooting boots on.

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