Sunday, July 01, 2012

Forza Azzurri v La Roja...date with destiny

The Euros' finals will come to an end later today when a team looking destiny in the face comes up against one of football's most storied sides. Spain v Italy. Many pundits thought it would be Spain v Germany, but the Azzurri put a stop to that. A month ago these two sides faced off in their first group games, a game that ended 1-1. Much has changed for both sides since that match. So who is going to win?

Why Spain will win:
How many Croats does it take to stop Iniesta?
  1. They have a date with destiny. No national team has won three straight major titles. Both West Germany and France attempted the feat and fell short. Spain has a chance to put themselves in a place in history no other team has enjoyed. What is even more impressive is that this coming from a nation that was always seen as an underachiever in international tournaments. Spain has not looked like the world beaters they were 4 years ago when this run started...but they have shown the ability of a champion: finding a way to win. They seem destined to continue this run.
  2. The tiki-taka is too difficult to break down. The constant triangle passing has been perfected by the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Cesc and the rest. No team has been able to break this down in competitive play, not sure that Italy will be able to find a solution. Iniesta is also playing at a different level. Watching him this tournament it is amazing to see his ability to hold on to the ball in the most precarious situation. With the play of Alba giving Spain width from the fullback position, the tiki-taka is getting increasingly dangerous to defend.
  3. Spain is too deep. La Roja have a deep bench. Being able to throw on the likes of Nava or Torres or Llorente (hasn't been used once!) or Pedro is lethal late in a game. After having to defend for the bulk of a match, chasing ghosts to then have to defend the pace of a Nava is too much for most teams to contend with. Spain showed against Portugal that they can change gears late in the game and few teams have an answer. Italy is an older team and has a lot of football in their legs, chasing the tiki-taka for 60 minutes to then have to defend the fresh players coming in from the bench will be too much.
Why Italy will win:
  1. Italy is the team that has the momentum. The old cliche is true, it is not how you start but how you finish. The Italians have progressively played better as the tournament has moved on. They did the necessary in the group stages: drew their opening game against Spain, got a point from Croatia and won their last game against Ireland. Granted they had to rely on the Spain - Croatia result to ensure they went through. Against England they started showing their class and finally against Germany they took the next step. They have been building up to this final. They are the hot team.
  2. Super Mario. For my Pittsburgh readers and Penguin fans...I am not talking about Lemieux, I am talking about Balotelli. Super Mario is....well.....super! Mario started his little run during the Ireland game, scoring a wonderful goal. He was a dangerous man against England, unfortunate to not have scored. In the semi finals he was a beast. The German back line had no solutions for him and partnering with Cassano was lethal. Spain's system seems to struggle against sides that line up 2 strikers, putting a tremendous amount of pressure on the Spanish center backs. I am not sure that either Pique nor Ramos will be able to keep Super Mario in check. As he demonstrated against Germany, all he needs is a sliver of space and he will punish you. The question remains can Mario play a full 90 minutes and will he keep his cool facing Ramos who I know will try to get under his skin. While Balotelli's second goal against Germany was ridiculous, the goal against Ireland was a greater piece of artistry -




  3. Italy has the system to beat Tiki-Taka. Portugal and Croatia gave a glimpse of how you can give La Roja some problems - timely pressure and break from deep. One of the reasons Spain has not looked the side it was a few years back, is their pace. I know I said they have pacy players, and they do, but the majority of the games they seem content to build slowly, get the triangles going from deep and methodically work their way up the pitch. They seem to just want to go up 1-0 and then sit back and hold the ball. Look at the France game. They came out fast and put France on their heels. However once they went up 1-0 they just sat back and didn't really threaten Lloris. The Italians came out and pressured the Germans, and did so high on the pitch. They threw the Mannshaft's game plan off. I do not think that they will look to put high pressure on Spain the entire game, but Portugal demonstrated that if you can do so you can get some chances to break. Unlike Portugal, the presence of Pirlo will make these breaks much more dangerous. In addition, Pirlo sits much deeper than traditional play makers. Why is this important? Italy can start their attacks deeper, away from the congestion that is in the middle of the park. If the likes of Busquets and Alonso pinch higher to pressure the Italians, that will open up space for Super Mario....not a wise move! The Italians know how to defend, know hot to absorb pressure and are not going to be afraid of the defending European and World Cup champions.
So who will win? I have waffled back and forth. My head tells me Spain....because they are doing what champions do - win ugly. But my heart tells me Italy, maybe because Spain is getting on my nerves - Ramos, Busquets, Cesc and the other whiners are irritating! I do think the game will be good, unlike recent finals. I look for a 1-1 in regulation and head to extra time - goals from Iniesta and Cassano.....and the game will end

Italy 2 - Spain 1. Super Mario will find a way late in the extra time to spring a goal on Spain. Ramos will try to get him off his game only to see Super Mario beat the Real Madrid gadfly for the winning goal.

Forza Italia!!!!

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