We’ll begin with a quick review of the Euro 2012 Semi Final Result:
Italy 2 Germany 1…and ‘It could have been four, or five’.
This was the night that Balotelli finally came of age; where Pirlo was involved with 34% of the Azzurri’s play (received or played a pass) and boasted a 92% pass rate.
Cesare Prandelli set his team up in his favoured 4-3-1-2 formation for the third game in succession after beginning the tournament with the controversial sweeper led 3-5-2. The 4-3-1-2 formation is effectively one that aims to protect Pirlo at the base of a central diamond in midfield; Pirlo, the deep-lying playmaker or regista
Germany manager Joachim Löw clearly recognised the threat that Pirlo possessed and attempted to counter the threat using Toni Kroos as the man marking midfielder; Kroos however, failed to get within three metres of Pirlo for entire the game.
Löw’s emphasis on attack was through the wide channels; Germany attempted 46 crosses during the 90 minutes. The only problem was that Bonucci, Barzagli and company won a staggering 35 of those crosses, dealing with any threat sent their way. Makeshift right back, Balzaretti, defined the passionate and heroic performance in a moment where he celebrated a last-ditch block as if he’d scored a goal, triumphantly punching the air
Italy played through character, they played through their strengths: consistency and passion.
Balotelli went off with cramp on the 70th minute and Marchisio ran himself into the ground once more and again made great strides in improving his profile outside of Serie A:
“I could barely see any more I was so tired” Marchisio
The Azzurri pressed Germany high up the field, resulting in Germany to effectively panic. Neuer misplaced more passes than any other player on the pitch and consequently made it near impossible for the germans to build their attacks from the back. Germany finished the game with their lowest passing percentage of the tournament; a consequence of Italy’s successful pressing game.
Mario Balotelli described his own match-winning performance as the best night of his life; a match where he smashed his second goal into the top right hand corner to encapsulate the venom and drive in his performance. Balotelli is now favourite for the golden boot. The Cassano-Balotelli partnership is now a force to be reckoned with:
“No striker I’ve been teammates with compares to playing alongside Antonio [Cassano]. He just brings me to another level. Not only that but I really think his personality has changed drastically from a few years ago. We have a fantastic relationship and I respect anyone who has a personality similar to mine, because it is too easy being famous and behaving like everybody else. It’s much more difficult being particular in the way we celebrate, or react to provocation.“ Balotelli
Cassano himself famously a former member of the enfant terrible legacy, is now a player who understands the strength of team work, of team spirit and like no other player in the Azzurri symbolises just what it means to ‘get knocked down and get up again’: A volte ritornano (sometimes they return)
“I haven’t given up on trying to magic up those out-of-the-blue moments, but I know now that there are ten other players on the pitch there to help me” Cassano
Italy united against Germany. Italy will be united against Spain; stronger than before.
Italy Vs Spain – Euro 2012 Final Preview:
Pirlo and Xavi: the battle of the playmakers, the registas:
“A good player with the ball should have the vision to spot three options. Puskas always saw at least 5.” Jeno Buzanszky
Full back Jeno Buzanszky could have easily been talking about Xavi or Pirlo; two players who go against the grain of Rodney Marsh’s claim that the playmaker is a diminishing role in modern day football:
“They’ve been killed off by athletes. Today’s game is about athletes. It started about six years ago when Arsenal signed Patrick Vieira. He became the prototype 6ft 2in, 15 stone powerhouse. Since then everyone has been trying to replicate that. There is no room for the playmaker now.” Rodney Marsh
But who relies on who more? Italy on Pirlo or Spain on Xavi? A question that may well determine who wins the final of Euro 2012. In the Group C opener between Spain and Italy, Pirlo’s ability to get a foothold in the first clash was relatively reduced. While Pirlo was involved in 34% of Italy’s play against Germany, he was left to fight for 23% of Italy’s possession and an unremarkable 82% pass rate against Spain. A consequence, this time, of Spain’s high tempo pressing game when not in possession or as Roberto Martinez remarked: “They press you from everywhere”.
However, it is worth casting your mind back and reminiscing over Pirlo’s moment of magic, the single moment presented to him – Pirlo picked the ball up on the half way line and skipped past the immediate on-pressing midfield to expertly feed the ball through to Di Natale to side foot home. Pirlo only needs one glimpse of glory.
Below are two tables illustrating just how much each of the teams relies on their play-makers to create chances; who are the danger men?
An average 90% of all chances created by the Azzurri have come from five positions.
While 90% of Italy’s chances were created by five positions, Spain’s chances were created by a more even spread across the entire team. However, there is a clear reliance on Xavi and Busquets as 44% of created chances are as a result of these two players alone.
The only conclusions that can be drawn from above are that Spain will need to deal from the threat down their right hand side as well as having to press Pirlo out of the game. Italy however, as many expect are due to revert back to their original formation of 3-5-2. With Spain’s lack of static centre forward, it wouldn’t make sense to play with four defenders marking nobody – then again, if anyone can master a zonal marking approach it is the Italians, experts of the Zona Mista approach.
Italy and Spain is arguably the most interesting clash at Euro 2012. Two contrasting approaches to the game, both to perfection. Spain have taken a systems approach of Tiki-Taka football to a new level; Italy on the other hand have decided not to directly implement a systems approach, they no longer use Catenaccio as their blueprint approach. Instead Italy rely on grit, they rely on passion – this is not something that can be practised like the well oiled systems approach of Spain.
An English journalist famously asked the great Stanley Matthews: “please, stanley would you show me your famous body swerve?”
“I’m sorry sir, but I can’t do it in cold blood.” Matthews replied.
Cold Blood. That’s just what Spain are – a cold blooded, well oiled machine of Tiki-Taka football; a well rehearsed and practiced blueprint that they will repeat time and time again. Spain’s passing football and flow around the pitch is done spectacularly, at blurring speeds in a well disciplined and sleek design: every player knows his role and understands the geometry of the pitch.
However, where Italy’s strengths lie are in the warmth of their blood, the venom they possess to live in the moment – to create the unpredictable and the magic through Pirlo’s dictatorship, Marchisio’s impressive forward surging runs and through Cassano and Balotelli.
What this tournament comes down to is that of two great footballing sides, both who understand that space is the defining element in football, both who have played with such style throughout qualification stages of Euro 2012 and at the finals in Poland & Ukraine:
“There is no medal better than being acclaimed for your style” Johan Cruyff
Before this tournament I was given a choice of which team to follow throughout the Euros, between the Tiki-Taka of Spain and the troubled Italians. I chose with my heart; I went with the underdogs. It’s when those decisions pay off, when the underdogs do the unthinkable, that football is at it’s best. So that’s why I’m supporting Italy through the madness of unpredictability, through the latest betting scandal, through Balotelli and all that surrounds him; through it all, through everything.
I hate to say I told you so but… “A volte ritornano: sometimes they return”