With just hours to go until the Euro 2012 final begins, flashbacks to past encounters between the Azzurri and La Furia Roja are coming to mind. Classic football matches, those that have shaped both national times significantly.
Do you remember earlier in the tournament, the opening fixture for both sides? We saw the 3-5-2 of Italy take shape against the 4-6-0 of Spain — playing with a ‘false nine’. A 1-1 draw was the outcome and the solitary goal the Spanish defence has let in, a goal by Antonio Di Natale assisted by Andrea Pirlo. This game has been talked about being potentially the game of the tournament, or at least one of the few that stick out in Euro 2012. The differing tactics between the two managers created a stage for it to be one of the classics.
Before this fixture, Italy had beaten Spain, in Bari, not only on the scoreboard, but on the possession stats. The fixture tested Spain, as Italy demonstrated their football ideology was unshakeable. Prandelli has stuck to his beliefs and as he said prior to the tournament “They are a very strong side, but not unbeatable” — something he hopes to achieve in the final.
However, Spain feel the Italian hoodoo they previously felt is no longer there, after Cesc Fabregas dispatched that final penalty in Euro 2008 to knock Italy out of the quarter-finals. Spain has since won Euro 2008, World Cup 2010, and now seek to be the first side to win three major tournaments on the bounce.
Vicente Del Bosque says before the final, “All I want is for us to show the style of football we are so passionate about and try to make history by winning.” He adds, “Already we’ve achieved something for everyone to be proud of and should we make history in the final then that would be even more the case.”
But, Spain is yet to defeat Italy in a competitive match in 90 minutes since 1920. Incredibly, 92 years without victory against the Azzurri in major tournaments. Despite, the words of Fabregas, how much of the history of the clash is dominating the minds of the Spanish players?As some would say, that had a similar effect on the Germans.
Fatigue may be factor, as the majority of the Italian sides didn’t play deep in European cup competitions last season. Starkly, most Spaniards have either represented Barcelona or Real Madrid in the surge to the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League, or Athetico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League final, and Valencia in the semi-finals of the Europa League, adding further fatigue in the Spanish camp.
Cesare Prandelli prior to the final has said, “I really hope we can be positive and take the game to them. Spain’s strength is not only possession, but also the way they win it back.” He believes Italy must “Pick our moments and work a numerical superiority in certain areas. We don’t expect to be in charge from the first minute to the last, but we know we can play our own football when the opportunity arises.”
The Azzurri demonstrated this against Spain in their opening fixture. “[They] will attack, albeit with a great sense of balance between the various departments,” Prandelli said. In this sense he aims to incorporate the defensive solidity synonymous with Italian sides and add his attacking flair. He’s displayed this against Spain and Germany, two pre-tournament favourites, defeating one and drawing with the other.
A tactical similarity with the two, as Prandelli feels “We must do well to win back the ball quickly and immediately move into our attack,” a tactic that embodies Italy’s new footballing style now, similar to the Dutch ‘total football.’
Furthermore, the tactical systems deployed by either manager will be interesting. Both have chopped and changed their tactical approach- Italy using a 3-5-2 and Spain’s use of a ‘false nine’ — in past fixtures.
With the return of Ignazio Abate, how will Prandelli line up his defence? As Federico Balzaretti’s inspired performance against Germany in an unnatural right back position may leave Prandelli with food for thought?
Also, Spain’s striking dilemma which has plagued them all tournament continues, after Alvaro Negredo’s poor showing against Portugal. And Fabregas’s continued heroic performances for Spain that date back from Euro 2008, leaving Del Bosque with a choice to make. Unless he opts to give Fernando Llorente his first start of the tournament, but his fitness is in question after his long season with Bilbao.
Both managers have to make tough choices for what they will plan to do in the final, as Spain look to be the second team to win two European Championships in a row, and Italy look to win their second European Championship, since winning their inaugural on home soil in 1968.