Euro 2012 reaches its climax in tonight’s final when defending champions Spain will bid to hold off Italy who have steadily eased into form in trademark fashion.
Having beaten strongly fancied Germany 2-1 in Thursday’s second semi-final, 1968 title-winners Italy will contest a Euro final for the first time since their extra-time loss to France in 2000. Reigning world and European champions Spain are seeking to become the first team in history to win three consecutive major titles, but they required a penalty shoot-out to edge Portugal in the last-four in Donetsk.
Spain’s ‘tika-taka’ under scrutiny
Despite dominating possession, as they did in the 2-0 quarter-final success over France, Spain laboured in attack against the Portuguese and have started to face accusations that their ‘tika-taka’ style has become sterile. Italy, in contrast, have confounded low pre-tournament expectations to eliminate first England and then Germany, and they have not been beaten by Spain over 90 minutes in a competitive match since the 1920 Olympics.
Italy’s preparations for the tournament having been clouded by the Calcioscommesse match-fixing affair, the Azzurri could be poised to triumph in the face of adversity once again.
Their World Cup successes in both 1982 and 2006 were prefaced by match-fixing scandals, but coach Cesare Prandelli has cooled talk of omens by insisting that his side will be the underdogs.
“We are looking for Spain’s weak points and we’ll be working on that, but it won’t be easy,” said Prandelli. “They are world and European champions.”
Italy successfully stifled Spain three weeks ago in Gdansk, as Prandelli opted for a 3-5-2 formation that afforded his defenders extra room to manoeuvre against Spain’s fluid front three. Fabregas was used as a ‘false nine’ in that game, but Spain coach Vicente del Bosque appears to have doubts over who is the best player to spearhead his attack.
Fernando Torres played up front in the 4-0 win over Ireland and the 1-0 defeat of Croatia, while Alvaro Negredo started in the 0-0 draw with Portugal but was replaced by Fabregas early in the second half.
Balotelli standing tall
One striker brimming with confidence is Italy’s Mario Balotelli, who came of age in the semi-final against Germany with a confidently taken first-half brace. The controversy-prone 21-year-old provided one of the images of the tournament by embracing his adoptive mother in the crowd after the final whistle, and he will enter Sunday’s game as the tournament’s joint-top scorer with three goals.
As well as pitting together two of the tournament’s outstanding midfielders in Spain’s Andres Iniesta and Italy’s Andrea Pirlo, the game will also see Spain attempt to become the first country to successfully defend the European title.
The legendary Spanish goal-keeper will have a chance to add to his long list of achievements. With a victory over Italy, Iker Casillas will reach 100 wins with Spain, a never-before-reached milestone that would further cement his legacy as one of the greatest players of all time. Regardless of how good the form of the Italian frontline is, an on-song Casillas could keep them at bay throughout the match.
Euro 2012’s joint top-scorer Mario Balotelli, whose match-winning performance against Germany sent Italy through, will be looking to repeat his majestic display of the opening group match where he carved open the Spanish defence on multiple occasions. A telling performance against the current World and Euro champions could imprint his name on the most glorified pages of the European football history.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 1st, 2012.
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