By Martin Barrio
The Spain Italy match has been the one of the most anticipated games since the draw for the Euro cup was held. Today’s game proved to be a battle between the coaches rather then the teams. With plenty of time to prepare and strategize for this game, both Del Bosque and Prandelli must have thought of numerous plans to break the other team down or try to get a favorable result. Today we saw the fruition of all their hard work and preparation for this game.
As many of you know, Spain has probably the best team on paper and they have the results to prove it. They are the reigning European Champions from 2008, and more recently the World Cup in 2010. Their players and footballing philosophy have remarkably produced what is arguably the best Spanish national side in their history. Their style involves possession of the ball for long periods of time to wear their opponents down mentally, and then catch them when they make a mistake; something like how a snake charmer lulls a serpent with his flute before trapping it. Today was no different, albeit with a the lineup that was more surprising then usual. Their formation on paper was a 4-6-0, with Xavi, Iniesta, Silva, Busquests, Xabi Alonso, and Fabregas all starting together for the first time. Most football fans were shocked and bewildered by the lack a of a recognized striker, and as such missed the true genius and overall picture with this selection. Italy have a proven reputation of being the most difficult side to break down; their traditional view of the game has always been to play solid, organized defense and try to catch their opponents on the counter. Del Bosque made the decision not to try to break through the Italian wall with a sledgehammer, but rather to slowly chip at it over and over until it crumbled.(insert clever metaphor about vines of ivy and castle walls here) This 4-6-0 formation was intended to keep possession of the ball and tire the Italians until they could not keep their organization and shape, then bring on Torres and Navas to provide the requisite force to finish the Italians off. However the out of form Torres could not finish his glorious chances leading to undeserved criticism once again. The strategy was genius, just poorly executed. Many feel that Spain must change their strategies, however they created numerous chances especially towards the end. They still have the best midfield in the world and their style and philosophy does not need to change. The only criticism Spain deserves is for not calling Roberto Soldado.
The Italians once again come into a competition under the oh-so-familiar cloud of match-fixing scandals back home. Buffon recently has tried to unite the country and asks for their support in this upcoming campaign. Certainly a successful run in the European Championships will give the media more favorable storylines to write about. The Italians have always been recognized for their superb defensive abilities and their strong organization. They don’t really have any super-star players like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, etc., but no other national side is united and strong as a team like the Italians. Coming off a despicable performance against Russia, many questioned the success the Italians would have in this upcoming tournament. However, today’s strong defensive performance certainly has silenced many doubters. Prendelli’s Italy also featured a surprising line up, a 5-3-2 with shockingly Cassano and Balotelli as forwards. The Azzuri brought back an old strategy with two central defenders in the back line and De Rossi playing sweeper just in front of them to cut the diagonal runs of the Spanish players through the midfield. The right wing-back Maggio and left sided attacker Giaccherini were drafted in to provide width in midfield. Some would argue this line-up involved three defenders, however upon further analysis, those outside “midfield” players seemed rather content staying in their own halves and not pushing the play further up the pitch. Cassano, having recently returned from heart surgery back to the national side reveled in being back in blue side and was relishing a chance to score a goal. Balotelli unfortunately had a very lack-luster performance and it was Di Natale who came of the bench with devastating effectiveness to instantly score a rather impressive goal to give Italy the lead. Pirlo gave a man of the match performance as he found lots of space and made some great passes all over the field. Although Italy did not win this game, they certainly proved they are a formidable side and will not be taken lightly. They came to this competition to hold the trophy at the end, and anything less will be thought of as a failure. Just like in 2006, every team should be wary of the Italians and they turn out to be the most unpredictable side in this competition
Both sides played tremendously well, and if it were not for Casillas and Buffon, emphasis on Casillas, this game could have gone either way. Spain will be looking to come off this draw with a victory next game to silence all the critics and Italy will continue to give these types of performances in hopes of giving their supporters something to cheer about. The European Championship has begun and the drama has begun to develop in a very short amount of time. Let’s all sit back and enjoy the show.