In perhaps Euro 2012′s most intriguing match so far, European and world champions Spain were held to a 1-1 draw by Italy. The Spaniards fielded a strange lineup void of a single true striker as attacking midfielders David Silva and Andres Iniesta were joined by central midfielder Cesc Fabregas in forward positions. On other hand, Azzurri boss Cesare Prandelli appeared to make all the right decision before and during the match.
Prandelli pushed midfielder Daniele De Rossi back as a central defender and the Roma skipper did not put a foot wrong while subbing Mario Balotelli was a safe bet as the fiery and unpredictable Manchester City striker was nearing a meltdown. Luckily for Prandelli inserting Antonio Di Natale proved to be a great decision as the Udinese goal poacher managed to fire Italy ahead with a sublime finish.
Below are the main points to take from this clash:
1) Spain looked unconvincing and while it is too early to rule out the Spaniards, this tournament will likely signal the last chance for the current core players, in particular Xavi and goalkeeper Casillas, to win another major trophy with the national team. Spain are still one of the favorites to win Euro 2012 but this will probably usher the end of a historic cycle for the Spaniards and certainly the key players would like to end this winning run on top with another trophy.
2) Spain must start a striker in their next game or else they will find it difficult to win matches. When Fernando Torres was introduced, the Spaniards looked much more dangerous despite the fact the Chelsea striker was both wasteful and disappointing.
3) Iniesta’s form is promising but the Spaniards did look shaky and unstable at the back whenever the Italians attacked with precision. While Croatia and the Republic of Ireland might not test the Spanish defensive line or stretch it to the limit, teams in the advanced rounds will carry a greater punch and will threaten the susceptible back-line.
4) Italy were surprisingly positive in terms of creating the more dangerous chances but also in showing they can more than hold their own against one of the world’s best teams. Italy’s main concern following this match will be the unpredictability of Balotelli and his erratic behavior.
The defense will need to have Andrea Barzagli back if Italy do progress to the latter stages of the tournament. Barzagli has a good understanding with Juventus teammates Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini while
5) Coach Prandelli will be pleased with Andrea Pirlo’s moment of magic which created Di Natale’s goal but the Azzurri tactician must be aware he cannot rely on Pirlo’s brilliance all the time since Andrea is slowing down from a physical standpoint.
Prandelli will hope that Claudio Marchisio can step up and duplicate some of his club performances on the international scene. Marchisio made one great run towards the end of the match but was otherwise subdued despite his efforts throughout the clash.
6) Italy’s Prandelli will have to decide whether Di Natale will start the next match or if he will stick with Balotelli who despite his talent remains an accident waiting to happen. Antonio Cassano did enough to merit starting next match so Prandelli will likely start with either Balotelli or Di Natale. The Azzurri boss might give Balotelli another chance in a show of faith as benching him the next match means Prandelli will unlikely be able to rely on positive contributions from Balotelli if Italy do go far in the tournament.
Overall, it is too early to judge both teams but the Italians and Spaniards do appear to be serious contenders if one is to consider the performances of all the teams up to this stage. Spain can rely on its experienced core of players such as Xavi and Iniesta as well as the team philosophy and a winning mentality, a mixture of valuable intangibles.
As for Italy, the hope in the peninsula will be for the Azzurri to repeat the remarkable achievement of 2006 when the team lifted the World Cup despite a scandal back home. Prandelli will be hoping Pirlo’s physical decline will not affect his mastery of precise passing and creativity since the Azzurri will rely heavily on the veteran midfielder’s ability to dictate play.