‘Final’ Predictions – Spain v. Italy

Instead of having our picks and preview together, @ArizonaSecrets wrote a magnum opus of a preview earlier today that you simply must read if you care about us, football, or shirtless Andres Iniesta. Also, please realize we’re giddy that we pulled off a pun in this title without you knowing. 

Our final picks before Euro 2012 comes to a close are:

 July 1, 2012

Cáit

Brendan

Amanda

David

 Spain v. Italy

Spain

(2-1)

Spain

(2-1)

Spain

(1-0)

Spain

(2-0)

It seems that all of our bloggers are with Spain for the final in their effort to win three straight major tournaments. It may come down to goal prediction to decide which couple is purchasing dinner for the other.

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.

Seminfinal Match – Germany v. Italy

Yesterday showed us that a team can actually take the wind of the Spanish sails, as Portugal played a brand of high pressing football that saw Spain only able to complete a little over 400 passes, well below their average of 677 a game. The game that was decided by penalties somehow did not see Cristiano Ronaldo take one, a gaffe of epic proportion by either the coach Bento or cocky CR7 himself. Spain is through to the final again with an opportunity to be the first team to win three major tournaments in a row (yayyyyy the Confederations Cup doesn’t count guys) and the first nation to win consecutive European Championships. The legacy of this Spanish dominance could never be undersold if they are to succeed.

What, that you were beaten by the better team or that you didn't take a pen?

Injusticia.

Their opponents, however, will be determined today. Germany look to find their way back to the final after losing four years ago to Spain but will need to go through Italy first. Italy is playing with a rejuvenated Andrea Pirlo, who has certainly made a case for himself as a Balon D’Or finalist with his impressive showings for club and country this year. The panenka he scored in penalty kicks against England was so beautiful that Sergio Ramos decided not to send airmail to the moon when he attempted his pen yesterday, but rather imitate the beauty and the grace of the immortal Pirlo’s penalty. Germany went through Greece with a new lineup in the quarterfinals and there was no need for Die Mannschaft to take penalties with their show of dominance (although we are curious as to whether Manuel Neuer would’ve taken one as he did in the Champions League). Below are two beautifully done lo-fi recaps of each team’s quarterfinal match courtesy of Tim at When Saturday Comes.

I hope you enjoyed those as much as I have. Anyway, for our picks we’ll continue to predict scores despite nobody correctly guessing the winner would come out on penalties after a 0-0 draw yesterday.

 June 28, 2012

Cáit

Brendan

Amanda

David

 Germany v. Italy

Germany

(2-0)

Germany

(2-1)

Germany

(1-0)

Italy

(1-1)

Semifinal Match – Portugal v. Spain

The Iberian Derby is upon us as Portugal, the runners up in Group B will face the winners of Group C, who also happen to be the reigning European and World Champions, Spain. Portugal has title aspirations that will allow them to shed the reputation of not being able to win a major tournament, a surprising distinction when you consider the history that football has in this country and some of the great players to play for A Selecção das Quinas (like Eusebio and Figo to name a couple). It was only four years ago that Spain, another country with a rich footballing history, heard the same kinds of criticisms (despite the country winning the 1964 European Championships) but silenced them all after winning the Euro in 2008 and then the World Cup in 2010. Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo looks primed to launch his country on a similar run, although they will need to unseat the current World Champions in this tournament to prove their worth, much like how Spain did in the 2008 Euro quarterfinal match against Italy.

Fans of La Liga, or just casual Clasico watchers, will see plenty of familiar faces in this matchup with Real Madrid and Barcelona stars taking the pitch in Donbass Arena, Ukraine. Barcelona players Victor Valdez, Gerard Pique, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Cesc Fabregas, and Pedro Rodriguez will trade in their blaugrana kit for La Furia Roja’s. Real Madrid’s Los Merengues, however, are split amongst the squads (courtesy of playing in La Liga but coached by Jose Mourinho who is from hell Portugal). Representatives from last year’s La Liga winning squad on Portugal include Pepe, Fabio Coentrao, and Cristiano Ronaldo. Somehow managing to get along with their blaugrana counterparts on Spain’s national team are Real Madrid’s Iker Casillas, Raul Albiol, Sergio Ramos, Alvaro Arbeloa, and the Man Of The Match against France Xabi Alonso.

Both couples are knotted up again with the same amount of points as we enter the last three games. To make things interesting, each blogger has been asked not only to predict the winner, but also the final score (for a possible bonus point). Here are our picks:

 June 27, 2012

Cáit

Brendan

Amanda

David

 Portugal v. Spain

Spain

(1-0)

Spain

(2-1)

Spain

(3-2)

Spain

(2-0)

Remember to follow our coverage on this very website but also on Twitter.

Quarterfinal Match – Spain v. France

Yesterday the gridlock between the two couples was broken as Amanda’s Big Fat Greek hopes were dashed to bits after a stunning display by the Germans. There will be no change in the standings today as all bloggers have chosen Spain to beat France.

La Furia Roja (isn’t it time for a new name Spain?) will try to exorcise the demons of last being eliminated from a major tournament by France in World Cup 2006. Since that tournament, the two countries couldn’t be more different in terms of footballing accomplishments. The Spaniards have won the previous Euro and World Cup, while the French are a picture of infighting and self-destruction at nearly every competition.

One cannot deny, however, how talent rich both of these teams appear to be on paper. While the French team does not have the same depth as their Spanish neighbors, they have a true number nine striker in Karim Benzema that even Spanish eyes must envy in this tournament. The Spaniards know all too well of Benzema’s brilliance since he dons the Real Madrid kit as his club. The Spaniards will start with David Silva and Cesc Farbregas as the fifth and sixth midfielders in their lineup today, with Cesc serving as the false number nine. The embarrassment of riches for Spain is clear when you look at the players watching the game from the bench (Fernando Llorente, Fernando Torres, Javi Martinez, Victor Valdez, Juan Mata to name a few), however it will be up to the starting eleven to play with pace and pass with precision to break down what is sure to be a French wall in defense. Expect that much of the first 30 minutes to be played in the French half with no less than nine players for Les Blues behind the ball. Croatia’s model in the last group game and to a certain extent, Chelsea’s Champions League victory over Barcelona will will guide French coach Laurent Blanc’s game plan today.

Our picks are as follows:

 June 23, 2012

Cáit

Brendan

Amanda

David

 Spain v. France

Spain

Spain

Spain

Spain

A few last things of note, today’s match is being played in Donbass Arena in Ukraine, marking the first time that Spain will play away from Gdansk, Poland. France played their first two group games against England and Ukraine (a tie and a victory respectively) at Donbass Arena in Donetesk, Ukraine. Also, remember to follow all the action on our Twitter account (@GdanskIfUWant2).


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.