SUNDAY EVENING’S showpiece final sees the culmination of 19 Euro 2012 nights as 16 international sides have been whittled down to just the two still standing.
Spain’s presence in Kiev is hardly a surprise. They’re, after all , the reigning continental and global champions, who were hotly fancied pre-tournament to retain the trophy and cement a four-year cycle of worldwide domination. Likely opponents for Vicente Del Bosque’s men at this late stage in proceedings varied initially, with most observers expecting either Germany or the Netherlands to provide the Spanish with a last stumbling block now.
Instead, in something of a shock, it’s Cesare Prandelli’s Italy that have — like Spain — plotted a successful path through Group C and two knockout rounds thereafter to get this far. For both countries, it’s a case of going back to where it all began in Poland and Ukraine this summer, with a 1-1 draw between them in Gdansk on June 10th starting off their respective campaigns.
If anything, it was Italy who emerged from that encounter with more of the credit as Spain struggled to penetrate the Azzurri’s backline without a recognised striker in their midfielder-dominated starting XI. Indeed, lingering doubts remain over Del Bosque’s perceived 4-6-0 formation, with the tiki-taka, triangular stuff occasionally looking toothless without an offensive focal point like a Fernando Llorente or Fernando Torres. That said, Spain are blessed with a raft of world-class midfielders, so it would perhaps be unwise not to try and include them all and dominate ball possession — a feat they regularly achieve with consummate ease. Italy will again have to cut off Spain’s threat at the source and ensure Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets, Cesc Fabregas and Co don’t see too much of the ball in space and with time.
Their defenders won’t have much to mark if Del Bosque continues to snub his criminally overlooked attacking options, so the onus will be on Italy’s Daniele De Rossi, Claudio Marchisio and Riccardo Montolivo to snuff out the danger.
They have the athleticism and stamina to do that, while a lot will depend upon whether or not ‘Super’ Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano can repeat Thursday’s heroics against Germany. If that dynamic duo can pierce Spain’s defence like they did Germany’s, Italy could well be in business. Mere containment alone won’t get the job done — a lesson England learnt earlier, ironically against Italy. Italy need to inherently believe they can hurt Spain with less touches of the ball.
The fear you have for them though is that Spain are a whole day fresher and will sap even more energy out of Italy with pass after pass after pass. It should be a hurdle too far for the Italians, with a marginal preference for Spain by the odd goal in three (possibly after extra-time).