Sunday, 1 July 2012

The History Makers

14th European Championship Final: Olympic Stadium, Kiev; Spain 4 Italy 0

Spain were supposed to be boring, they were supposed to be dull and simply content to pass sides to death (not my criticism, I’ve always thought that they were frustrating).  Tonight though they dispelled all of those myths by comprehensively blowing away Italy.  In doing so they created history by becoming the first side to successfully retain the European Championships, and they have also become the first side to win three straight major championships. 

After all of the speculation, Italy went with the 4-1-3-2 formation that got them to the final, while Spain went with the 4-6 formation that they deployed in almost all of their matches (the group game against Ireland excepted).  There were two differences in Spain’s make up that affected their performance.  Firstly they seemed to be intent on getting forward a lot more quickly, and secondly it seemed to me that David Silva took up the “false 9” position – which Silva fitted better into that position better than Fabregas.

Ramos & Xavi Hernandez had both had shots in the first 10 minutes, but it wasn’t long after that Spain scored their first goal.  An Iniesta through ball found Fabregas on the Italian left, who’s cross/volley was headed in by David Silva.  Que the fight back from Italy as they had a free kick and a corner against Spain, but missed both chances.  Despite being on the end of a hiding, had Italy equalised or pulled a goal back after Spain went 2 up, it could have been a different story.

It was however Spain that got the second goal.   Bringing the ball out of defence, Jordi Alba passed the ball to Xavi, who returned the ball to Alba further up the pitch.  With lots of space to play with, Alba steered the ball past Buffon for the second goal, and the goal that put Italy behind the eight ball.

The second half started with both sides looking for the next goal. Italy had the best chance as the substitute Di Natale is put in on goal but shoots straight at Casillas.  However the moment that ensured that there would be no Italian fightback though was not the third Spanish goal, but an injury to the Italian substitute Motta moments after he came on as Italy’s third substitute.

What this did herald though was a stepping up of Spain’s tiki-taka which had the effect of wearing down Italy – Italy flagged badly in the last 15 minutes as the effect of playing with 10 men took it’s toll.  It was here where Spain got their third and fourth goals.  The third goal came with 7 minutes left as Xavi’s through ball found Spain’s second substitute Fernando Torres who rolled the ball past Buffon, Torres becoming the first player to score in successive European Championship finals.  With two minutes to go, Busquets through ball found Torres who squared the ball to the third Spain substitute Juan Mata who put the ball past Buffon for Spain’s fourth.

There is an argument to be made that Spain’s performance tonight was the best performance in International football this century. This performance, put together without a single forward player was built on the dominance that their 4-6 formation provides in midfield areas.  As intimated earlier, it was helpful for Spain tonight that Silva ventured into the forward area’s as he fit’s the “false 9” position better than Fabregas did – Fabregas had a good match in the wide area’s.  Euro 2012 was a good tournament, which went some way to confirming Spain as the best international side of this century so far, as the sides who we thought were making steps towards the standard of Spain began to show signs of going backwards.

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