Champions, Champions, Champions. That’s how the record will read for Spain going into their next footballing assignment. They have reached the pantheon of greatness as they now become the first team ever to retain the Henri Delaunay trophy. A run that started 4 years ago in the same competition, it is unprecedented and in all likelihood, unlikely to be repeated.
Unquestionable is the word we’re all looking for. Spain pummelled Italy into submission were duly rewarded with a win that carves their name into history. There were no refereeing errors which could have blotted their win. There were no controversial act of gamesmanship which could have blighted their win. This was as clean as it got for a victory and on this night, Italy just couldn’t live with them.
The only minor detail in which you could say Spain were lucky was the injury to Giorgio Chiellini. The Juventus man hobbled off after 20 minutes and that led to Italy playing the last 30 minutes of the game with just ten men. Not because they have anyone sent off but because that early injury and the subsequent goal conceded meant that changes needed to be made. So when Thiago Motta went down clutching his hamstring, the game was up. At the time that Motta went off just only been introduced to the game 4 minutes prior, Italy were already 2-0 down courtesy of a couple of really wonderful interchange of play from the red half of the game.
The current Barcelona combination worked to create the opening goal as Iniesta’s incisive pass found Fabregas. The number 10’s cutback was perfect for the on-rushing Silva to head home. Just before half time, it was the turn of the future Barcelona combination which created the second goal. Alba winning the ball inside his own half before setting off on a speedy run which was matched by Xavi’s through ball. The left back picked his spot and Buffon was defeated once again.
By the time half time approached, Cesare Prandelli knew that he had no choice but to go for it. Changes needed to be made because Italy were hardly at the races in the first half. They were occasional forays forward but were limited to pot shots from outside the box, which Casillas dealt with easily. De Rossi and Pirlo were being overrun in midfield because Marchisio and Montolivo positioned themselves almost wide of the two front strikers. Though, Prandelli’s first substitution was hardly game changing as it was Di Natale swapping with Cassano and Italy’s shape remained.
At that time, I was rather hoping to see Motta to come in to shore up Italy’s midfield and perhaps free Pirlo from some of the defensive duties so that he can focus on getting them back into the game. As we’ve seen, the plan for Motta was rather short-lived. We can argue until the cows go home but that injury was unfortunate and no one could have predicted it. With the power of hindsight, I’m sure Prandelli would have put Nocerino on instead.
Tired from chasing around for almost the entirety of the match and having to cover for an injured team mate took its toll on Italy. They were jaded and could hardly muster enough strength to lay siege on Spain’s goal. The strike duo of Balotelli and Di Natale dropped deep to support and when possession was turned over, there were no viable outlets to push it forward to. It is somewhat depressing to see that after all that they have done in this championship, they could do absolutely nothing to even suggest that they could get back into the match.
As for Del Bosque, he got his tactics spot on. His striker-less formation worked much better this time around because the midfielders (those actually placed in the middle any way) were moving the ball at a quicker pace. Their movements were just splendid and Fabregas was at the hub of it, looking to make the run and creating space. Arbeloa was tasked with more defensive duties while Alba’s pace caused a lot of problems for Italy down Abate’s side. You can also see Fabregas constantly pressing and hounding Pirlo, denying the seasoned maestro the time and space to dictate the game.
There must be at least one journalist in UK who will be crying in sorrow because to him this result meant that football has lost and the devil has taken over. His pre match wish that for the good of football, Italy must triumph because they actually played strikers. New tactics are always scorned upon, especially when it shakes up the idea one has of the game. Would Herbert Chapman had envisaged teams forgoing using actual wingers? Though, given his revolutionary thinking, anything is possible with Chapman but that is besides the point.
What we saw yesterday was Spain producing a brand of football that they have associated themselves with. Hogging the ball and starving the opposition of very little time on the ball that Italy had. A tactic that worked because it obvious how increasingly tired Italy became chasing after the ball. The late goals only served to emphasis that. Precision passing and creative movements. The ability to receive and control the ball in any space and any situation. That requires confidence, so few teams can proudly claim that all 9 players on their side can do that (discounting Arbeloa and Casillas).
Standing ovation for Spain, achieving a feat that may never be matched again.