Final Match – Spain v. Italy

The conclusion of this magical tournament is upon us and two Mediterranean footballing powers are ready to clash tonight in Kiev Olympic Stadium. Surprisingly enough, both of these teams met in their first group game of Group C, with Italy striking first but Spain equalizing shortly thereafter and the match ending in a tie. The result was one of the better games in the tournament at the time and neutral fans will be hoping for a similar showdown.

As with any final, there is a lot of history on the line in this matchup as Spain looks to be the first footballing nation to win three straight major tournaments, a run that began when they won Euro 2008 against Germany and continued in their World Cup victory over the Netherlands in 2010. Spain is enjoying a golden generation, something that Iker Casillas, Spain’s number 1 and captain, alluded to in a press conference today in an effort to highlight the hunger that the Spaniards still maintain because it may be the twilight of this era. In the last two major tournament victories Spain has not allowed a goal, giving a certain level of gravitas to their keeper’s remarks. Furthermore, Spain has not allowed a goal in this Euro since that first goal of the tournament against Italy.

Italy, on the other hand, have been far removed from their historic football prominence as this Spanish fiesta has occurred over the past 8 years or so. Italy came far in Euro 2008 only to be eliminated in penalty kicks by Spain and had a very poor showing in the World Cup, prompting the Italian Football Federation to remove Marcelo Lippi, Italian managing hero of World Cup 2006, and replace him with Cesare Prandelli who has integrated youth into the team and has enjoyed great success as coach. Some bastions of the old Italian guard remain in Andrea Pirlo and captain Gianluigi Buffon, but the youth movement from the likes of Antonio Cassano and Mario Ballotelli have beent he life blood which has allowed Italy to look comfortable playing a brand of football that is unlike their historical Catenaccio stalwart defensiveness. Their offensive firepower proved too much to handle for tournament favorite Germany in their semifinal match and may have been a surprise to those who were still reading the tired Italian playbook and expecting much of the same. Instead of Italian focus being on a defensively willed squad led by a legend like Nesta, Maldini, or Cannavaro; the midfielder Andrea Pirlo is the heart that circulates the life blood across the pitch in a fashion that is not unlike how Xavi or Andres Iniesta guide the Spanish ship.

Often during this campaign, the managers of both campaigns have made intriguing decisions but it would be wrong to say that Prandelli’s inventiveness hasn’t reaped more rewards than Spain’s del Bosque’s. Prandelli confused Spain in the first match and surprised other opponents on their path, while Vincente del Bosque has been confusing more often than not. Some will say that Italy deserved to win because they created greater chances, most notably a stage-fright effort by temperamental post-teenager cum golden boot candidate Mario Balotelli that we’ve included for your viewing pleasure.

Perhaps Ballotelli forgot which team he was on and thought that he was actually one of the Barcelona players who was playing for Spain.

ballotelli barcelona

Why Always Tiki Taka?!

His recent form however, shows that he has remembered which team he plays for, creating a powerful juxtaposition with Spain’s top man Andres Iniesta.

Andres Iniesta and Mario Ballotelli Euro 2012

How many differences can you spot in these pictures?

One thing that VdB’s squad has done well is defend, an unheralded quality of the team that needs to be noticed after stymieing as surging CR7 in the semifinal against Portugal. If Spain want to lift the crown once again, they must find a way to take away Andrea Pirlo’s surgeon-like passing ability and creativity. A team that did that well was Croatia, when they employed a 4-3-2-1 in the second half of their group stage match with Italy and Luka Modric continued to surge ahead and force Pirlo on his heels. Spain has not played that formation this tournament, however Vincente del Bosque’s recent decisions have never been dictated by precedent or familiarity; he’s often over-thought the task at hand. If Spain lose, however, maybe they will regret not partaking in the biscotto match-fixing effort with Croatia that Uefa alluded to before Italy’s final group stage match with Ireland when the Azzurri would’ve been eliminated if Spain and Croatia decided their game in a 2-2 draw.

This surely isn’t the Spanish way, but if the Italians were the ones with Spain on the ropes….We’re not saying, but we’re just saying there’s a history of these kinds of things with Italy.

So enjoy the match and get ready to see our predictions in shortly! Also, follow @GdanskIfUWant2 on Twitter for some live tweets/drunken commentary.

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“Dear Joe Hart, How Does It Taste?” -Mario Ballotelli*

*We can only assume that Mario said this and much much worse to his Manchester City teammate after today’s penalty kick shootout to decide the quarterfinal match between England and Italy. This post comes from our “Offsides” section.

Ian Darke mentioned as the penalty shootout began that there is a video floating around of Joe Hart blocking a Mario Ballotelli penalty shot in training for their club team. We’ve included that video below.

Anybody watching the game must’ve enjoyed hearing this and seeing Joe Hart talk some trash as he stepped back to his line for the first shot in the penalty shootout. Mario Ballotelli, however would have none of it. See it here – (Penalty taken at 2:47)

If Mario hasn’t done so already, we can only guess that Mario will strike this familiar pose when the two reconvene for club training ahead of the next Premiership League campaign. Pantomiming the action that goes with the title of this post, Ballotelli has exacted his revenge on Hart.

How does my dick taste Joe Hart?

My Favorite Moment of the Group Stage

I thought it would be helpful to look back on the group matches before looking forward to the knockout round which start today. Looking back on all the group games, this blogger has selected one of the most memorable moments in the tournament on which to reflect.

He can’t believe it either…

Not many people expected Greece would beat Russia in the final game of Group A and qualify for the quarterfinals, well my girlfriend saw it coming but not many others. The Hellenic blue-white were as starved for goals as their economy is for cash. The defensive-minded Greeks needed to beat a surging Russian team and also continue to play its’ brand of stalwart defending.

Just before the first half concluded, the Greeks grabbed hold of those three points on a Giorgos Karagounis goal. It was amazing to see the counterattack pan out for a Greece team that seemed to be awfully close to giving up a Russian goal all half. The goal injected life into the team heading into half to continue its’ unwavering defending.

That beautiful strike that beat the Russian keeper low and to his left was not, however, the most memorable moment in the tournament for me. The most memorable moment would come later in the game when the goal-scoring Giorgos would be egregiously booked for diving in the box. Most firm-handed referees will signal for a flopping player to get up should they go down in the box and possibly give them a stare down, however the Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson would have none of those deterrents and instead reached for his yellow card and booked the national hero Karagounis in the 60th minute. The salt in the proverbial wound stung when replays showed the Russian defender actually was at fault for taking the Greek goal scorer down by sticking out his leg once he was beaten.

Luckily, Greece would hold on to win and finish second in Group A, but the most memorable part of the upset and the entire group stage, for me at least, was the reaction of Giorgos after being booked unfairly and then the moments following when he realized that he was carrying a card into the match already and would miss the quarterfinal matchup against the winner of Group B should Greece hold on to win. Every fan watching at home, no matter their allegiance, spiraled down the emotional pitfall that Karagounis exhibited for the next five minutes of the match as he ran up and down the pitch. I was absolutely gutted for the guy and although I still feel badly for him having to sit out the quarterfinals, re-watching the display of emotions reminds us of how greatly invested the players on the pitch are for their national side.

Please enjoy the following .gifs to relive the agony that Karagounis felt after his harsh booking. It’s like a sad song that is terribly affecting but you’re better for knowing and singing along.

Amazing, isn’t it? Please share your favorite moments with us on Twitter or in the comments. Get ready for today, because it is the start of the Quarters!

The Case for Fernando Torres AND the 4-6-0

After the opening match tie that both Italian and Spanish supporters believe left their side suffering, commentary quickly refocused itself on the Spanish lineup and Fernando Torres. On the eve of Spain’s second group game, it’s important to pay close attention to the lineups forthcoming and the ensuing and continuing debate.

After the controversy about “would he or wouldn’t he” be called up to the national team for the Euro after a precipitous decline in form since his move to Chelsea, Fernando Torres started the campaign on the bench. Due to an injury keeping Spain’s top goal scorer out of the tournament, David Villa, it seems that Vincente Del Bosque is content not playing any striker at all.

La Furia Roja’s first group game against Italy featured four in the back and six (!) midfielders with Cesc Farbregas featured as the “false nine.” For those unaware, a “false nine” is basically a midfielder in striker’s clothing, who still plays deep in the midfield but serves as the team’s only striking option on the pitch. Many football fans erupted on twitter that this was such a departure from the norm that even the talent rich Spain would have difficulty scoring. However, Del Bosque’s move was not that unconventional if you consider the success that Barcelona has enjoyed playing with Leo Messi in a similar role. Spain’s greatest assets remain in its’ midfield and Del Bosque’s approach to Italy with a 4-6-0 was clever. Cesc Fabregas’ club season showed a drop in form and finishing ability as the season continued, however he did end with 15 goals and 20 assists, both higher marks than Torres could achieve with a Champions League winning side.

Del Bosque was vindicated when Fabregas scored Spain’s lone and equalizing goal, however his decision to sub Torres on for the Cesc shortly thereafter demonstrated a scintillating strategic move on the Spanish coach’s part. The former Real Madrid manager realized that as the Italian defense grew more weary, they were more susceptible to runs in from behind–a skill at which Torres excels. Spain’s number 9 proved to be up for the challenge of making these darting runs, forcing a great tackle to avert Italian disaster from Gigi Buffon and also just nearly missing a winner with a chip shot above the keeper and the crossbar. The latter, an attempt on goal that had it found the back of the net, many would be considering it the goal of the tournament and herald the return of “El Nino” Torres.

The near miss chip shot that Torres put over Buffon…and the bar.

Torres could not bring Spain the three points, but he did bring something that they desperately needed. Spain wasn’t threatening to score goals all game but with Torres on they were much more dangerous, say what you will about his finishing. However, his chances would not have been possible without the grinding work that the Spanish midfield put in on their first 70 minutes of the match. Spain suffered to not score more, but that is no fault of Torres, but rather the failure to open up Italy’s wings earlier in the game. Right and left backs Arbeloa and Alba, respectively, did not penetrate the Italian defense as much as they needed to. Both needed to mimic Dani Alves’ approach on Barcelona as a free wheeling presence up and down the touch line. Any defensive fears in this approach should be eased in considered the presence of Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets in the defensive midfield. Sure, Spaniards would feel more comfortable with pressure from their defensive wings if Puyol were able to play in this tournament, however Pique and Ramos need to be tested and trusted. The lack of attack from the defensive backs are what kept the midfielders playing with possession for much of the game and not generating enough goal scoring chances.

Look for the 4-6-0 again today against Ireland, but depending on the form that the Irish national team manager Giovanni Trapattoni, an Italian, has his defensive units in it may not yield the goal scoring brilliance we’d expect from the reigning European champions. If Spain’s defensive back do not attack and stretch the Irish defense, Del Bosque will be quick to call on Torres again and he won’t be wrong in doing so. Even with a poor display from Torres, he has the capable Fernando Llorente waiting as well. However, until either of these players are subbed in, Spain should refrain from playing long corners and stick to lulling the defense to sleep with possession and making the pass unseen that unlocks any of the other midfielders to score.

Group A Predictions for the First Day of Action!

Can you feel the excitement?! The Euro commences today and with it the first predictions made by our blog authors! Let’s explain the scoring system of our scoring system for our predictions:

  • If an author correctly predicts the decision of the match, that author will be awarded one point.
  • If an author correctly picks all matches for the day, they will receive 3 points instead of one point for each match.
  • If a couple correctly comes to a consensus decision on a match they receive 3 points, as opposed to one point for each author (each author splits the points in individual standings).
  • If a couple correctly picks both matches on the day, they will earn five points.

Now that the ground rules are out of the way, follow the jump for our author’s predictions!

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