And so after twenty four days and thirteen games, Euro 2012 is complete. The tournament proved an unequivocal triumph; only two 0-0 results, enough spectacular goals to kill a small elephant (if all shots taken together), great attacking football, welcoming hosts and relatively little off-field trouble. We have also enjoyed the privilege of witnessing arguably the greatest international team in the history of the game wipe away media suggestions of ‘boring’ play by producing some of the most exhilarating, precise football that has surely ever taken place. That’s right, England.
‘It’s almost like there are more Spain players on the pitch’
Spain vs Italy match analysis:
It’s that age old debate: paella or risotto, Serrano ham or prosciutto, General Franco or Mussolini? Well, on Sunday it was decided once and for all that Spain is a better country than Italy, by exactly four.
Italy fully deserved their place in the final after a series of exuberant, expansive performances where individuals have clearly felt empowered to express themselves as creative footballers. Prandelli has clearly altered the overall strategy of the national team and he should take great credit for affecting such a positive change. Spain, in comparison, had to endure sentiment throughout the tournament that they were a team in decline, with the well balanced Germans poised to usurp their supremacy.
The game began quite evenly and, unusually for a major tournament final, was devoid of any caginess. From around the ten minute mark, however, Spain asserted themselves as the dominant force. After 14 minutes, they crafted a goal that even England would have been proud of. Silva finished off a great move involving incisive passing and great awareness of each other’s movement.
Encouragingly, for the sake of the game as a spectacle, Italy reacted positively using the lively Cassano as an effective conduit to the Spanish penalty area and causing Spain concern from a series of corners and crosses. Italy had actually gained 53% possession over the first 30 minutes, displaying a real sense of belief in their ability to compete alongside the outrageously skilled Spanish midfield. However, five minutes before half time Spain reminded everyone why most teams sit back against them. Xavi played a perfectly weighted slide rule pass beyond the overly advanced Italian defence to the young left back Alba, who took the ball without breaking stride and slipped it into the bottom corner.
After the break Italy again showed they weren’t ready to give up the ghost and Di Natalie- who had replaced Cassano- had two chances to pull a goal back for Italy, one of which he really should have converted. These chances were interspersed between great Spanish play, Fabregas showed ridiculous footwork on one occasion to dribble past three defenders inside the area before the ball was eventually scrambled away. Then came the moment that killed the game. Thiago Motta came on for Montolivo and within five minutes his hamstring exploded. Italy had already used all their substitutes and so were forced to playing the remaining half hour with ten men. Prandelli’s decision to make all substitutes so early has to go down as a tactical error, as indeed does his decision not to send the injured Motta back on to the pitch to sit on half way and shout at the Spanish players, perhaps flicking their ears and throwing clumps of mud at them.
Oh well, it was clearly all over as Italy lacked the numbers to steal the ball from the Spanish carousel. Just to really rub salt into the Italian’s already fully cured prosciutto, Spain brought on two fast players- Pedro and Torres- to stretch the Azzurri defence. Pedro missed an absolute sitter from six yards after yet another fabulous passing move but Torres didn’t miss when Xavi handed him the keys to the goal with another inch-perfect through ball. At one point the camera panned to Roman Abramovic. With Juan Mata now coming on, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Russian billionaire oil hoarder had informed Del Bosque that it would be ‘unwise’ not to bring on both Chelsea players, Torres and Mata. Indeed, with Buffon‘s history, it would be equally unsurprising if a Russian minion informed the goalkeeper via his earpiece that if he allowed the Chelsea men to score there would be a yacht waiting outside his Lake Garda holiday home. If this was the case (and I’m quite certain it was) Buffon got a totally free yacht, as there was nothing he could have done about either goal. Mata slotted his effort into the net after a square ball from his Chelsea team mate bypassed Buffon, leaving the goal gaping. At 4-0 the game was literally over (not literally).
Spain became the first international team to win successive European Championships and seemingly also the first team to have conceived all their children in the same year, judging by the army of toddlers who swarmed the pitch after the game. The amazing thing about Spain is that they seem to have developed the ability to cruise through a tournament without using up any supplies before unleashing hell in the final. It reminds me of Roger Federer in his prime, or that Czech javelin thrower who used to lag in second behind Steve Baxter throughout the entire year and then rock up at the World Championships and Olympics to break his own world record (an obscure reference, admittedly). Basically, Spain is now a diva, who can only be bothered to entertain when the whole world is watching. The team’s rider is no doubt growing after each tournament, but if they keep entertaining like they did during this year’s final, I’d personally bring them all the grapes and Manchego they desire.
Now, as an alternative to the usual ‘Team of the Tournament’, here are the winners of my Pub-football-banter-style Awards:
The Sony Playstation Award for most ‘street-style’ goal: Danny Welbeck vs Sweden.
The France circa 2010 Award for most squad infighting: Holland
The Tina Turner Award for Biggest Diva: Cristiano Ronaldo (who was the only Portugal player given his own hotel suite and two bodyguards).
The Nigel De Jong Award for most needlessly aggressive challenge: Nigel De Jong (on Mesut Özil).
The ‘I’m not gay’ Award for most distance maintained between team mates during the national anthem and team photo: England
The Tom Cruise Award for most maverick behaviour: Mario Balotelli
The Rivaldo award for worst simulation: Nani vs Spain
The QI Award for the most interesting statistic: The greatest number of successful passes completed by England against Italy were between Joe Hart and Andy Carroll.
Please feel free to add to the award ceremony by leaving comments below.