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Italy 1 Spain 1 | Review & Statistically Proving – Were Italy Lucky?

The kings of two footballing philosophies locked horns in the opening Group C game of Euro 2012: Catenaccio and Tiki-Taka; Italy and Spain.

The Catenaccio philosophy is one associated with a highly organised and effective defensive tactic that focuses on taming the opponent’s attacks and in turn preventing any credible goal scoring opportunities. In Catenaccio, it is typical that the role of a sweeper, libero or verrouilleur is given a pivotal role in both defensive organisation and playing the ball out from the back – a commanding general.

In truth, the profession of a libero or verrouilleur is a dying role in modern-day football tactics – the likes of Franz Beckenbauer, Gaetano Scirea and Franco Baresi are now widely regarded as football antiquity. So eye brows should have been raised when Cesare Prandelli opted to move away from his preferred 4-3-1-2 to an italian suited 3-5-2, made using two wing backs and a libero (Danielle De Rossi), while instructing Juventus attacking midfielder Giaccherini to play out of position on his international début at left wing-back (a player who only four years a go was fighting relegation in Serie C2). Much of the prematch attention should have been directed towards Prandelli’s courage to employ such a tactic against the world champions.

Italy (3-5-2): Buffon, Maggio, Chiellini, Bonucci, Motta, Marchisio, Giaccherini, De Rossi, Pirlo, Balotelli, Cassano

Yet Vincente del Bosque had other ideas. La Furia Roja looked set to take the rule book of formations and simply tear it up, by announcing a team that seemingly was set up to play a 4-6-0 formation:

When we got into the locker room we were joking around looking at the team sheet, as we couldn’t find a striker” reveals the Azzurri’s newly appointed Libero, Danielle De Rossi.

Guillem Balague (spanish football expert) argued that del Bosque had simply taken inspiration from an already widely praised and accepted Barcelona tactic:

“How many strikers do you think Barcelona use? No strikers means that there’s not one referent point, but five different mobile reference points…set formations are an obsolete way to look at football …centre backs prefer a number 9 due to familiarity of being able to mark them”

Balague went on to claim that del Bosque had set the team up like so, as a tactical response to both Italy’s likelihood of employing a Catenaccio strategy:

“Spain will find a team that will kill spaces. You combat that with dynamism, 2v1’s, short passing and involvement, hence no striker – [this is the] logical progression of style”

Spain looked to be playing to their own strengths, as a response to both their opponent’s set up, their own abilities and as a response to a lack of David Villa. With much of the attack built around a successful Barcelona team and the influence of the Barca-influenced infamous ‘rondo’ it seemed as if it was only a natural progression of formation in a bid to force what they do best: keep ball. The Rondo is essentially a fiercely competitive game of ‘piggy in the middle’ that has become tradition at Barca’s training ground and is often used to intimidate any new arrivals at the club.

However, it seems that there was actually less preparation for this tactic than one would expect, as Javi Matallanas revealed to Guillem Balague that Cesc Fabregas was only made aware of his role as a ‘false number 9’ three hours before kick off.

With a throw-back libero, a false number 9, a Balotelli-Cassano strike partnership, the battle of the regista’s (Xavi and Pirlo) and the clash of the two polar footballing philosophies this match up was beginning to look more and more like it was going to be one of the classics of Euro history.

Spain (4-6-0?): Casillas, Arbeloa, Piqué, Ramos, Alba; Busquets, Xabi Alonso, Xavi; Silva, Iniesta, Fàbregas

The 90 minutes

As expected the spanish dominated possession (65.8%) and played 646 passes to Italy’s 292 passes. Xavi, whom Gary Breen said would “keep the ball off you in a phone box”, was involved in 197 of Spain’s passes (played or received) and created 8 goal scoring opportunities for the striker-less tiki-taka side. Busquets was another player central to La Roja’s possession play as he was involved in 183 passes and boasted a 92% pass rate (the highest of anyone on the field).

Spain’s unnamed formation allowed the spanish to play 172 passes in the final third compared to Italy’s 48, a theme than ran throughout the game.

However, Italy pressed high, boasted a 100% tackling rate (15/15) and provided Spain with a problem as they didn’t begin the game with many players who could run in behind Italy’s back line. The libero role was played well by De Rossi who relieved Pirlo of the play-making pressure, with De Rossi deciding the direction of play more often than not.

Half time came with the score at 0-0, but as one of the most technical and interesting duels of the competition so far.

The second half started, promising more of the same, only this time the first real opportunity came early in the half. A frustrated Mario Balotelli, pressing high up the field managed to steal the ball from Sergio Ramos and began the charge towards Casillas on his goal line. All of Spain and Italy held their breath as Balotelli’s charge towards the goal began to turn into a casual stroll towards Casillas as if a Playstation controller was running out of battery. As Balotelli began to see the world around him in slow motion Ramos had caught up with him to put in a last-ditch tackle. What just happened?!

Prandelli, clearly not happy with Balotelli’s performance and perhaps concerned about the booking Mario had received earlier on in the first half, decided to bring on Di Natale in his place, leaving Balotelli to think over how on earth he hadn’t had a shot moments before.

Up stepped Andrea Pirlo to stake his claim as one of the world’s best – skipping past his Spanish marker on the half way line and changing the pace of the game to feed through Di Natale, who put away his first shot of the game and made his mark immediately.

But the action packed opening to the second half was not finished just yet. Three minutes later Spain managed to get in behind De Rossi with a clever run from Cesc Fabregas who finished cooly – to complete the curse commentator Jon Champion had put on the game where he opened the game with the words “there is no striker, there’s only Fabregas” much like Tim Lovejoy’s cursed words of “Don’t worry, it’s only Ray Parlour”, moments before the midfielder hit an unstoppable shot from 30 yards in the 2002 FA Cup final win against Chelsea.

Di Natale had one more undeniable opportunity with an agonisingly missed volley inside the box from a clever Giovinco ball before the game returned to it’s status quo of Spanish control in the final third, in a duel that looked destined for a testing draw there after – aside from the two missed Torres one on one opportunities to put the game to rest, a ‘nearly-impact’ after his introduction to the spanish front line. The final score Italy 1 Spain 1.

Azzurri Key Performances

Claudio Marchisio, Antonio Cassano, Danielle De Rossi and Gianluigi Buffon all put forward their claim for Azzurri of the match. Iniesta continued to ‘wow’ plaudits for the Spanish, as others put in a nothing more than expected performance from the world champions.

Uefa named Marchisio (9.15) as their man of the match for both teams via their statistical method ahead of followers Fabregas, Iniesta, Xavi, Alonso and Busquets. The Juventus midfielder created balance in a robust midfield trio of Pirlo, himself and Thiago Motta. Marchisio showcased all aspects of his game and was unlucky not to score after unlocking the spanish control in the second half: dribbling through the open space from the half way line towards the spanish box to play a one-two, receive the ball back within the box only to hit a tame shot at Casillas. The Turin-born midfielder also recovered possession well throughout and made a key block to a goal bound Xavi effort.

Pirlo showed glimpses of mesmerising brilliance, including his assist, however was not consistent throughout the game with his passing – hopefully not a sign of tiredness after a long season with Juventus. While Danielle De Rossi had an excellent first half, the introduction of Torres showed a weakness in the player as a defender as Spain found Torres in a good position on more than one occasion:

“I did better in the first half and suffered more against Fernando Torres, who is physically strong and intelligent”

Azzurri Post Match Quotes

Danielle De Rossi: “It was natural to lose a little confidence after the Russia performance and some expected a catastrophe but that wasn’t the case”

Cesare Prandelli: “The important thing is that they did what I asked, playing well when passing vertically and gave our all. This is Italy.”

James Horncastle on Cesare Prandelli: “Nothing but admiration for Prandelli. Humble enough to put own system aside in recognition of what works here and now”

Post match the President of Italy, Napolitano went into in the locker room to congratulate many of the players on an optimistic outcome and embraced Buffon after his performance (

The draw concluded a 14 match winning streak for the Spanish in competitive matches and leaves an air of optimism amongst the italians again after a recent pessimistic outlook on the Azzurri’s chances of winning Euro 2012. Both Italy and Spain showed glimpses of why they should be considered favourites for the tournament, upstaging any of the performances from early favourites in Group B.

While most of the Azzurri came out of the duel playing well, Mario Balotelli put in a below par performance in a promising Balo-Cassa striker force. The only positive to take from the game is that hopefully Balotelli will use that miss as fire for the rest of the tournament presuming Cesare Prandelli provides him with another opportunity in the next game, one that hopefully this time, he’ll take.

Were they lucky? Introduction: Analysis of PDO 

Using PDO to analyse how lucky a team may have been in the outcome of a game is a concept @11tegen11 and  @jameswgrayson have employed in a bid to separate the two entities that determine who wins a football match: luck and skill” (@11tegen11). The PDO concept was first used as analysis for Ice Hockey and has revolutionised the way in which teams are assessed.

The PDO is simply a number that determines how lucky each team has been. The PDO is set as a norm at 1000 and always combines with the opponents in a total of 2000 – is calculated as:

[Shooting Percentage (sh%) + Saving Percentage (sv%)] x 10 = PDO

Where sh% is calculated as ‘total number of goals’/’total number of shots’ x 100, and;

sv% is calculated as ‘total number of shots that missed’/‘total number of shots’ x 100

A PDO of +1001 would suggest that the team have been luckier than the norm of 1000 and a PDO of -999 would suggest a team have been unlucky compared to the norm. The combined value must always add up to 2000, since there are two teams each playing each with 1000 norm worth of luck-skill.

For example, take the Denmark v Netherlands game in Group B

Denmark: 1 goal, 8 shots. 32 ‘saves’ from 32 shots.

Netherlands: 0 goals, 32 shots, 7 ‘saves’ from 8.

Denmark PDO = 10 (12.5 + 100) = 1125

Netherlands PDO = 10 (0 + 87.5) = 875

Leaving Denmark with a PDO of 1125 and the Netherlands with a PDO of 875. Meaning that the Netherlands were 12.5% unluckier than the norm, Denmark were 12.5% luckier than the norm and a differential of 28.6% more luck to the Danes. Literally taken, Denmark won their game with a degree of luck and Netherlands lost by being unlucky.

Were they lucky? Conclusion: Italy and Spain PDO

Italy: 1 goal, 11 shots. 18 ‘saves’ from 19 shots

Spain: 1 goal, 19 shots. 10 ‘saves’ from 11 shots

Italy PDO = 10 (9+94.7) = 1038

Spain PDO = 10 (5.3+90.9) = 962

A minor differential of 76, or 38 more/less lucky for each side. Italy were 7.9% luckier than the Spanish.

So to conclude were Italy lucky to draw against Spain? – In short, Yes… but only marginally, in relation to Denmark and the Netherlands game.

If Mario Balotelli had actually managed to get his shot away this would have evened this statistic up further still, providing Casillas had made the resultant save. This would have bought the totals to 972 and 1028 in the same balance of luck and a 5.7% luck differential.

SEE LINKS for a more comprehensive understanding behind the rationale and analysis of PDO on the Dutch Eredivisie and English Premier League using the same analysis method with additional outcomes such as futuristic prediction:



TikiTaka Football

All statistics taken from FourFourTwo Euro 2012 Stats Zone

Assistant Manager of Oxford University Centaurs and Head of Analysis. The Tiki-Taka Handbook can be ordered from: Director of inspire football events | Football writer & youth academy coach - | Writer on several websites as well as and many more | Please follow me on Twitter - @TPiMBW or | Always open for a reasoned debate so please leave a comment
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