After three weeks of what has been a very successful tournament, it all comes down to two teams, one match and one trophy. World Cup and defending European champions Spain will take on the Italian Azurris on Sunday evening for a chance to lift the 2012 European Championship trophy at the Olympic stadium in Kyiv, Ukraine. It’s a rematch of the opening 1-1 draw in Group C earlier in the tournament, a result which brought Spain’s 14-match winning streak in competitive matches to an end.
Vicente Del Bosque: “We have an aim that no-one has ever achieved before and that is beautiful. We do have a lot of pressure because there is a lot of optimism that surrounds us. But we are accustomed to the pressure because we are defending the title and we are world champions. However, we cannot think that we are out of this world and we are going to win. It would be a huge mistake to have that attitude.”
Having previously triumphed at Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup, Spain are bidding to become the first country to win three major international tournaments in a row. The great West German side of Beckenbaur and Gerd Muller reached three consecutive finals too (Euros 1972 and 1976, 1974 World Cup) but won only two titles. Victory would therefore cement La Furia Roja’s position as arguably the best ever national team in the history books. Italy, however, will aim to lift the European Championships for the second time having won it back in 1968 on their home soil.
It took Spain an energy-sapping 120 minutes and penalty kicks to see of their Iberian neighbors Portugal in the semi-finals. Safe for the 4-0 drubbing Vicente Del Bosque’s men handed out to Ireland and their 2-0 victory over a French team torn apart by internal wrangling, the Spaniards have looked vulnerable sometimes during the tournament. I believe they are suffering from the high bar they have set for themselves over the last four years as teams have not come to terms with their Tiki-Taka passing system and ways of countering it.
With Negredo not impressing in a rare start for him against Portugal, the false nine system could be retained against Italy. The tactic didn’t work greatly in their first meeting in the tournament but with Fabregas impressing in the striker’s role and not forgetting the fact that he has always turned up for Spain on the big occasions, he should get the nod over Fernando Torres who had a great impact coming off the bench in the first meeting and should repeat the role on Sunday. Spain’s false nine system has attracted some negative remarks in the past three weeks but Vicente Del Bosque will hope to be vindicated in Kiev on Sunday when he could become the first coach ever to win the World Cup, the Euros – (he was not in charge in 2008) – and the Champions League (with Real Madrid).
Possible Starting XI (4-3-3): Casillas; Arbeloa, Pique, Ramos, Alba; Iniesta, Xavi, Busquets, Alonso, Silva, Fabregas
Cesare Prandelli: “They (Spain) are the world and European champions and they are an example to everyone. But we have grown and we should not fear them. We have to have the strength to face them with ideas and quality. Spain are very strong but we have beaten them and no team is invincible. I have a team with character, quality and willingness.”
The Italians have not been affected by the match-fixing scandal raging on at home. In 2006 at the FIFA World Cup in Germany, it did inspire them and brought unity to the team as they went all the way to the final where they beat France to lift the trophy. There’s been the same pattern this time around at the European Championship in Poland and Ukraine, Cesare Prandelli’s men have successfully negotiated their way to the final showing no signs of being distracted by the match-fixing scandal back home but can they beat Spain and win the trophy? Yes, they can!!
The Azurris are playing in their first European Championship final in 12 years all thanks to the special brand of football conjured up by Cesare Prandelli. The Italians have looked very solid in defence (as usual) but have added some attractive attacking plays to their game that has endeared them to many football followers.
They have created many scoring chances all through the tournament but poor finishing from their strikers have let them down.
Italy were very composed, efficient and effective in their 2-1 semi-final victory over overwhelming favourites Germany on Thursday – arguably their best performance so far at Euro 2012. The enigmatic and mostly eccentric Mario Balotelli played his best match in an Azurri shirt scoring an excellent first half brace. The Manchester City forward has three goals to his name and is a firm favourite to win the top scorer award. If he is in the mood on Sunday, Ramos and co in the Spanish defence could be in for a torrid evening.
Cesare Prandelli will be tempted to stick with the same line-up that got the better of the Germans in the semi-finals but I think the 3-5-2 formation employed in the first meeting worked very well with Daniele De Rossi, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini especially impressing in the three-man defence. The midfield battle will be very important especially going up against Spain with their possession football and Italy can’t afford to lose it, hence my opinion that a five-man midfield could help snuff out the threat of Spain’s passing game. Antonio Cassano (top-scorer during the qualifying stage) and Mario Balotelli should definitely continue their budding understanding in attack.
Christian Maggio is available after serving a one-match suspension against Germany and Ignazio Abate is also back in contention after missing the semi-final with a muscle injury.
Possible Starting XI C3-5-2): Buffon, De Rossi, Chiellini, Bonucci, Balzaretti, Marchisio, Pirlo, Maggio, Montolivo, Balotelli, Cassano
FINAL ANALYSISIKER CASILLAS and GIANLUIGI BUFFON have both been exceptional between the sticks for Spain and Italy respectively. Spain haven’t conceded a single goal in their last 900 minutes of action in major tournament knockout games (a streak which started in the quarter finals of Euro 2008) and Casillas has been in action in all these matches. Buffon on the other hand has brought his club form into the tournament. The Juventus goalkeeper helped his team to the Serie A title last season unbeaten and has only let in three goals at this tournament – Both players are big factors why these two teams are in the final and will play major roles in the final on Sunday.
ANTONIO CASSANO‘s career was placed in jeopardy after he had to undergo surgery last November to correct a heart defect but he has since returned to play a leading role in Italy’s march to the final. Alongside Mario Balotelli, the duo will definitely ask questions of the Spanish defence that has only let in one shot on target in their last two matches.Two of the greatest midfielders ever to play the game will go head-to-head for the second time in the tournament. ANDREA PIRLO and XAVI have strung 320 and 465 successful passes respectively till now. Pirlo almost has the Most Valuable Player of the Tournament award wrapped up ahead of the final while Xavi will look to set the records straight having not exactly hit his usual standards in this tournament. They are the origin of both team’s attacks and both players will try to dictate the tempo of the final, the one who wrestles control of the midfield is likely to decide the final.
The threat on the Spaniards left-wing is one Cesare Prandelli must pay attention to. JORDI ALBA and ANDRES INIESTA (Spain’s best midfielder in the tournament) have both been a menace for their opponents and always look like making something happen.
I think it would be a monumental advantage for the side that scores first in this final, I don’t think we’ll see many goals so the first team to find the back of the net would probably win it.
PREDICTION: Tough one to call and I dare not bet on this one. My heart says Spain but my head says otherwise. Spain started the tournament as favourites and I understand it’s a lot to expect from Spain after their past successes and I fear the chance to make history on Sunday evening might be one heavy weight on their shoulders but I would still be backing them as they have proved time and time again what a great side they are.
And there goes the last preview of Euro 2012. Did I miss something? Who would you be rooting for, Spain or Italy? Let me know by using the comment box below and if you enjoyed the piece, kindly share it for your friends to enjoy too… Thanks.
It’s been a fantastic three weeks of top European football. Racism has been kept to its barest minimum and the focus has been on the field of play most times during the tournament. I hope you have had a great time like I did. I have enjoyed every minute of it but it wouldn’t have been possible without your inputs, comments, divergent opinions and criticisms. Special thanks to: Okechuku (Jr) Izeogu (@Jrizeogu), Charles Bush (@9jabloke), Fattcheeked Sola (@FattcheekedXL), Richard Ayo Oyome(@MrRichard93), Akemini (@kbabaspeaks), Ogunfuwa Tolulope (@Oluwa_eto), Olajuwon Quadri (@Redbruv), The Fidmeister (@Fidelis_), GingerSportsMedia (GingerSportsUpd), Deleke (@Illuminatish)… for their CONSISTENT contributions throughout the tournament. God bless.
Exams start on Monday so I will be taking a break from blogging… Till next time…