So with 30 of the 31 games at Euro 2012 finished, I think it’s safe to look back on the competition as a relative success. Michel Platini put a lot on the line personally by awarding the competiton to Poland and Ukraine and although it hasn’t passed completely controversy free, the consensus of European journalists reporting back from the finals was that the Poles and Ukrainians made excellent hosts and much of the negative press they received beforehand was illusory. Also, I’d say the tournament has been a success with regards to the quality of the football also – far surpassing that which we saw in South Africa two years ago. Although at the Euros it’s rare that the standard isn’t higher than at the previous World Cup.
Looking ahead then to the final, for me Italy has been the real stand out team so far. The tactical diversity they’ve shown as well as the organisation and understanding each player seems to have of their role, strongly resembles some of the great tournament teams Italy have provided in the past. Some of their stand out performers: Gianluigi Buffon has done his usual trick of re-appearing at a major competition and reminding everyone he’s still probably the best in the world. Daniele De Rossi has been magnificent in a number of roles, first as a makeshift sweeper in the group stages, then as one of three attacking midfielders against England and then as a holding player against Germany – definitely one of the great technical players of this generation. Then there’s Andrea Pirlo, whom every single English pundit hasn’t failed to point out a good 300-400 times, has been magnificent for Italy in every aspect – arguably player of the tournament. Finally, it’s been noted Mario Balotelli has shown more maturity and determination in his play for Italy than he ever did last season for Manchester City. Prandelli deserves a medal.
BC Italy XI Prediction: Buffon; Maggio, Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Pirlo, Marchisio, De Rossi, Montolivo; Cassano, Balotelli
There isn’t so much to say about their opponents Spain however, the reigning champs who just seem to become more of cliché of themselves every year. They’ve been as elegant and as efficient as ever, but for the first time, accusations of boring play have been targeted at the Spanish. It seems that the system that was once only lauded for its innovation and discipline is finally receiving, what many consider to be, long-overdue criticism of its indirectness and one-dimensional nature. Personally my biggest annoyance with Del Bosque’s Spain is their insistence on playing a double pivot with Busquets and Alonso. The two of them effectively do what Busquets does on his own for Barcelona. I know it would be harsh to drop Alonso, but when you’ve got so much attacking talent on the bench, i.e. Navas/Pedro/Cazorla/Mata, to pick him religiously makes not a lot of sense to me. So far the only tactical flexibility Del Bosque has shown is in his selection for CF, which I’ll talk about in a minute.
BC Spain XI Prediction: Cassilas; Arbeloa, Pique, Ramos, Alba; Busquets, Alonso; Iniesta, Xavi, Silva; Torres
It’s difficult to predict a winner here. This Spanish team is easily one of the greatest tournament teams of all time; they haven’t even conceded a goal in a knockout round of a competition since the semis of Euro 2008! On the other hand Italy are the real in-form team, and it’s worth noting they haven’t lost a game in regular time to the Spanish since 1920! (That’s what I read anyway) From a tactical viewpoint, I think we know there’s only one decision to be made that will have any real affect on how the game plays – Spain’s CF. The problems with playing Fabregas as a false #9 are plain to see, whilst the idea is good on paper, Spain’s execution thus far has been poor. Against Italy in their first game they hardly had any serious attempts in 90mins, with every player in the final third looking to play a final killer ball, rather than actually get into a position to score. Against Portugal, Alvaro Negredo looked awful and clueless, he wasn’t even trying to make runs. Del Bosque has only two other options – Fernando Llorente (who hasn’t played a minute for Spain so far) and Fernando Torres. Here’s 5 reasons I’m convinced he should go for the latter…
It’s almost as if Spain’s midfield and tactical set up was made explicitly to serve the type of striker Fernando is; he fits Spain like a glove. The runs he makes off the last defender, his willingness to drop deep and towards the flanks, add that to his pedigree and experience in big international matches, it’s almost impossible to understand why his selection isn’t a no-brainer. Considering also his performance against Ireland, he had the ball at his feet for less than 50 seconds overall, yet still managed 5 shots on goal, 4 on target and 2 goals. So he obviously isn’t short of form.
If there’s one team in world football where 6 midfielders is a bad idea, then it’s Italy. They’re so well organised with an in-form back line and goal-keeper, that to try and pass it into the net sounds like a completely pointless venture, even if you’ve got 6 of the best passers in the world. The same applies for playing a target-man like Llorente, Spain aren’t going to send in dozens of crosses for him the way Athletic Club do. To give him his first game in the final would represent a risk Del Bosque isn’t exactly renowned for taking either.
From a personal viewpoint, Fernando needs this. The impact of his disappointing World Cup campaign (in which he was plainly given up on) was plain to see in his form for Liverpool. The man plays of the confidence others show in him and next season is truly ‘make or break’ for him. If he has to sit on the bench again and watch Spain win, it’ll be all that harder to make a quick start for his club come August.
Chelsea needs this. With Drogba gone and another CF unlikely to join, we’re depending on Torres to deliver more than ever. Even with all the new signings, and all the momentum from our win in Munich, if Torres doesn’t play well next season, our chances of silverware will be very slim indeed.
I’ll be honest; I only really had 4 reasons. “5 reasons Torres should start” just makes a better title for the news feed pages. I feel obliged to come up with something though, so reason 5 is that we love Torres, we love to watch him play and love to see him score. I’m not a massive Spain fan and I haven’t enjoyed watching them at all this summer, but for Torres to grab the winner would be the perfect end to the tournament. Come on El Nino!