Final Match Report & Analysis
The 2012 European Champions are Spain.
Italy began the match equaling Spain in possession and half-chances, but within 10 minutes the Spanish were asserting their authority in midfield and attack.The breakthrough came after only 14 minutes when CescFabregas took a clever pass towards the byline (the stripe running between the corner flags and across the face of goal) and squeezed a chip towards the penalty spot.Little David Silva was there to force a headed goal past Italy's keeper Gianluigi Buffon.In the 41st minute, Spain's left-side defender Jordi Alba exchanged passes with midfielder Xavi while sprinting towards the Italian goal, slotting the ball past a sprawling Buffon.
Halftime came and Italy made a second substitution, the first having been required to replace an injured defender after 20 minutes.On came Di Natale to try and spark the Italian attack.This he did to some effect, but the Italian coach CesarePrandelli felt one more change was required, so on came Brazil-born Thiago Motta in place of RiccardoMontolivo – their final substitution.Disaster struck about 10 minutes later when Motta collapsed to the ground, victim of an apparent hamstring tear.His departure took Italy to 10 men for the rest of the match.
The Italians struggled bravely but in vain.Striker Fernando Torres, who had come on for Fabregas, scored a third goal for Spain in the 84th minute.As the clock wound down on the match, excruciatingly so for the Italians, Spain grabbed one more goal through Juan Mata four minutes later.Teary-eyed Italian players accepted their runner-up medals then watched while Spanish captain IkerCasillas lifted the trophy.
Spain 4-0 Portugal
Prediction: Italy 2-1 Spain
Hooboy, was I wrong about this one.The Spaniards came out of the traps like they were at a track meet.Every aspect of their play — save perhaps their watertight defense — was quicker and more accurate than in previous matches at this tournament.Against lesser teams, such attacking intent would have resulted in an onslaught of goals early on, leading to demoralization.
To their credit, the Italians did not immediately crumble.They stayed with their preferred style of trying to work forward from in front of their defense.Spain suggested to have been coached to exploit this when they earned the lead through the Silva goal.Pirlo carried the ball away from his goal, tried a one-two pass exchange with De Rossi, and was helpless as Spain quickly turned the ball back towards the Italian goal
Their second goal was a dagger in the heart for Italy.One-nil down is rarely a psychological death-blow for a team.But 2-0 in the first half of a final can make a win seem impossible.The Italians were hanging around, keeping it close, probing for an opening and absorbing the Spanish attack.The dramatic and lightning-fast Jordi Alba goal was a huge — and hugely uncharacteristic — blow to the defensively proud Italians, especially just before halftime.
Prandelli's decision to bring on little bustler Di Natale for Cassano was not necessarily a bad one.Cassano's unpredictable (but undeniable) talents tortured the Germans in the semi-finals, but he was strangely impotent in the first half against Spain.
It was the coach's choice to replace attacker Montolivo with defensively-oriented Motta that probably sealed Italy's fate.The last change was certainly negative in nature — Montolivo is many times more likely to score a goal than Motta — but had a certain logic to it.Italian maestro Andrea Pirlo struggled in possession in the first half.This was due to the high pressing of the Spanish, harrying and harassing him every time he touched the ball, forcing him to move close to his own goal to receive the ball.Motta's assignment must have been to give relief to Pirlo in midfield and free him to move forward up the field.However, Motta's debilitating injury damaged the entire team, causing them (because of the lack of another substitution) to run themselves ragged chasing the ball.
In any case, with the one-man advantage, Spain pinned Italy back in their own half and played keep-away.As the game clock wore down, so did the Italians' resistance.Their attack was almost non-existent when their guard dropped at the back to allow Torres to score past a despairing Buffon.They had almost stopped playing completely when Torres laid the ball on a plate for Mata to punch in his goal.As exciting as the match was, the end stages were hard to watch, so hopeless and utterly defeated were the Italians.
So what went wrong for Italy?Certainly, suffering two major injuries during the match was extremely difficult for them, and amounted to terribly bad luck.Nevertheless, the unrecoverable quandary in which they found themselves was perhaps avoidable.Chiellini's departure early in the match should have put coach Prandelli in super-saver mode.The half-time change was obviously intended to add directness to Italy's attack; a risky move that meant Italy had only one more change at their disposable.Questionable also from the standpoint that Di Natale's super-sub persona shines best when subbing on in the latter stages of a close match.Bringing him on with 45 minutes to go, and giving up on the then-sluggish but still mercurial skills of Cassano, was a gambit that failed.
Of course, the insertion of Motta into the match is the decision that will be second-guessed the most.Using the team's final substitution in the 56th minute was a huge risk.Prandelli was gambling that Motta's work in front of the Italian defense would allow Pirlo to link up better with Italy's forward attack and thus create goals; all the while hoping that no one else in the team would have to come off injured.Needless to say, the gamble failed miserably.
In hindsight, Prandelli surely should have held his last 2 substitutions for later.Put Diamante (another attacking midfielder/winger) in for Cassano or Montolivo at about the 75 minute mark, then Di Natale with about 10-12 minutes to go.Motta was probably not going to make any difference for the team — all changes ought to have been offensive and prudently saved for later, just in case another injury occurred.
Again though, we can't lay all the blame at Prandelli's feet, when Spain made his job so difficult from the get-go.Spain seemed to be wide awake for this match, unlike in the run-up to this final, when they seemed confused and uncertain.Their inimitable 4-6-0 lineup had appeared to stutter in recent matches.Many observers had begun to question whether Spain had lost their mojo.But give credit to Spain coach Vicente del Bosque.From the very beginning of the match, they looked intensely eager to win the ball, keep it away from their Mediterranean neighbors, and deposit into the goal behind Buffon.There was a fire in their eyes that had been missing before today.
Del Bosque led a team into the tournament that was slightly fractured from the brutal Spanish club season.There were concerns outside the squad (and perhaps some inside as well) about whether key players from respective clubs Barcelona and Real Madrid could lay down their differences for the good of the team.There were also doubts about the effectiveness of their unique attack, about the possibility that other teams had found the key to unlocking their system.Del Bosque will now go down in tournament history as the coach of the only team to have successfully defended their title.
So shed a tear for Italy as we bid farewell to one of the best tournaments in the history of the event.Congratulations to Spain, deserving champions of Europe.
[A+E] Sports + Recreation
[A+E] Sports + Recreation
[A+E] Sports + Recreation
[A+E] Sports + Recreation