Italy manager Cesar Prandelli’s changing of the Azzurri’s formation to a 4-3-1-2 from a 3-5-2 has at the least propelled, if not outright caused, a run to the finals of Euro 2012 for the 2006 World Cup champions. Featuring a diamond midfield capable of providing shielding for playmaker Andrea Pirlo and direct runs at goal from Claudio Marchisio all while enabling Daniele De Rossi to play in his favoured role, Italy’s second shape of the tournament stakes a great claim to the centre of the pitch, looking to dictate from within rather than race down the flanks.
“Spain, if it were to win the whole thing, would be the first to triumph in three consecutive international tournaments. The Spanish would arguably have the best national team ever. Their unique way of playing, which goes by the deceptively cute name of “tiki-taka” is really a form of torture in which the victimized team spends the entire game chasing short, one-touch passes, slowly being run into the ground—at which point Spain walks the ball into the goal and wins 1-0. Crowds have whistled in derision as La Furia Roja dink the ball around, pundits have said Spain can’t keep “barely” winning, and writers have eloquently imagined ways of countering this method, but nobody has beaten Spain in a decisive game for almost eight years.”
– DUSHKO PETROVICH from the N+1 blog
Spain and Italy face off today in what will surely be an epic battle for the European championship of 2012. Here are a few juicy tidbits about the match to get you warmed up. Check back later today for a more full-blown tactical preview of the two sides.
- If Spain should win the match, they will be the first side in history to win three consecutive major international tournaments.
- Momentum points to a Spanish victory: the current squad is on a record run of 19 matches without a defeat; they have emerged from their last nine knockout matches without so much as conceding even a single goal.
Álvaro Negredo is a striker of considerable class, combining the physicality necessary to win aerial duels and play with one’s back to goal with the guile and burst necessary to wreak havoc on runs in behind defence. There isn’t a club in the world who couldn’t put his talents to use in some capacity, and an undoubted many would play the Sevilla frontman in a starring role. But, of all the games that Spain manager Vicente del Bosque could have debuted Negredo in at Euro 2012, there exists no answer for why it was in the semi-finals against Portugal and not in the group stage matches against Italy, Ireland or Croatia.
There, simply, was no role for Negredo: with Portugal pressing from the very outset and closing down any Spanish player on the ball, the options to provide service were limited and the available paths to do so were on the wrong side of challenging. And since Portugal had the same number of centre-midfielders that Spain – nominally — did, the omission of Cesc Fàbregas as a false-nine made Portugal’s harrying of Spain’s midfield all the more cogent.
While Vicente del Bosque has crowned La Roja’s shape at Euro 2012 with either a striker in Fernando Torres or a false-nine in Cesc Fàbregas, both representing a discrete tactical aim, he has kept the remainder of the defending champion’s starting eleven static, employing a back-four in defence, a three-man centre of midfield featuring a double-pivot, and two inverted wingers.
FC Barcelona midfielder Xavi on Saturday overtook French wizard Zinedine Zidane to top the list of successful passers in Euro championship history. Xavi, who has at least one more match to play, has now completed 734 passes. The old record was a mere 707.
Stats: OptaSports • Image: JOSE ANTONIO GARCIA SIRVENT – MD
France coach Laurent Blanc all but admitted that his team would “park the bus” during their quarter-final matchup with Spain at the Euro12 finals. Speaking at a press conference ahead of the clash, Blanc praised the Spanish possession game and admitted that his side would adapt to the Spanish tactics: “Spain are going to have the ball, it is impossible to fight them for ball retention. Spain have been humble saying we’re dangerous and a good side. I don’t know if they were telling the truth, but at some stage we have to try to be dangerous. Yet we have to be careful of them. I usually say we have to adapt as little as possible to our opponents and play to our own strengths, but they are the best team in the world.”
When asked about the merits of this Spain squad relative to the team that won the World Cup two years ago, Blanc responded: “Oh come on. People may criticize the Spanish, but I wouldn’t because from a fan’s perspective, as a neutral, I love watching them. If people like football, they will all agree that it is a absolute delight to watch Spain. Spain have a unique playing style and have dominated world football for four years. Everyone tries to stop them and no one has been able to.”
Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli will oversee the Euro12 quarter-final match pitting Spain against France. Rizzoli, who plies his trade in Italy’s Serie A, saw action during the France v England match earlier in the competition. He came under somewhat severe criticism in the British press for his decisions in that match, and was said to have favored the French at a number of crucial junctures. Let’s hope for a fair performance in this match!
Image: Daniel Dal Zennaro [dpa]
The unanimous conclusion among football pundits is that this Spanish team is weaker than the side that won the 2010 World Cup. English football writer, and noted dog lover, Sid Lowe turns to the stat books for a devastating reply:
“Spain top every major stat at Euro2012. Goals, goals conceded, shots, shots on target, passes, pass accuracy, corners. Playing badly?”
Stats: @sidlowe • Image: Michael Sohn [AP]
Tensions in Laurent Blanc’s France team boiled over after Tuesday’s 2-0 defeat to Sweden, as players clashed in the dressing room after the match, according to reports published Wednesday in The Guardian. The new French manager affirmed specifically that “Yes, it got a bit heated, but then everyone had a cold shower. It shows that there was a bit of electricity. I hope there will be against Spain, because we’ll need it.”
France made an early and ungraceful exit from the 2010 World Cup after players mutinied against former coach Raymond Domenech. Blanc was hired to rebuild the team with new players and to reimpose order and discipline in the squad. He will face his biggest test as manager so far when he faces Spain on June 23 with a place in the semi-finals at stake.
First round action in Euro12 Groups C and D is complete and the quarter-final matchups are staring us all in the face. Group C winners Spain will faceoff with France after the latter finished second in Group D with a disappointing 2-0 defeat to Sweden. Group C runnersup Italy will take on England to round out that side of the bracket. The full quarter-final schedule is as follows:
- Czech Republic v Portugal: Thursday June 21
- Germany v Greece: Friday June 22
- Spain v France: Saturday June 23
- England v Italy: Sunday June 24
Spain advanced to the quarter-final round of the Euro 2012 championship on Monday with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Croatia that saw Jesus Navas break the deadlock in the 88th minute. The Spaniards progress to the knockout phase of the competition and a likely encounter with either France or England in the next round. Check back to the site later today for a more complete roundup of the final matches in Groups B and C.
Image: Piotr Pedziszewski/EPA
Individually and collectively Spain shattered a number of Euro passing records in Thursday’s display against the Irish.
Xavi Hernandez broke two all-time Euro records: most passes attempted (136) and most successful passes (127) in a game. This broke a 20 year old record held by former FC Barcelona player Ronald Koeman. The team, with 859 successful passes during the match, also broke the record for total passing in a Euro game. The previous record was 778.
Stats: @castrolfootball & OptaSports • Image: Claudio Villa/Getty
With two matches complete, Group C is down to the wire. Here are the possible outcomes of the third and final round in the group:
- Croatia win, Italy win: Croatia and Italy through.
- Spain win, Italy win: Spain and Italy through. Spain wins the group.
- Both games drawn: Spain and Croatia through.
- Spain win and Ireland win or draw: Spain and Croatia through, Spain as group winner.
- Spain/Croatia draw, Italy win. Margin of victory will be key for Italy: 3 goals and they oust Croatia. 4+ and they top the group. If Italy win by 2-0 and Croatia/Spain have a score draw, Italy is out.
- Croatia win, Ireland win or draw: Croatia and Spain through, Croatia as group winner.
Is your head spinning? Mine is. But maybe it’s the wine I just had with dinner.
Spain destroyed Ireland 4-0 on Thursday to serve notice to their group and tournament rivals. Fernando Torres scored twice; David Silva and Cesc Fabragas also compounded the misery of the Irish. The result sees Spain top Group C [based on goal difference] and puts them in a good position to advance to the next phase of the competition. Watch totalBarca later today for a more comprehensive roundup of the action at Euro 2012.
Image: Michael Steele/Getty
Italy and Croatia divided the spoils from their Group C match on Thursday with each side taking a point. This presents Spain with an opportunity to take control of the group, should they convincingly defeat the Irish.
Arbeloa Ramos Pique Alba
Busquets Alonso Xavi
Spain has never lost a match against Ireland in European competition. The two teams have confronted each other 6 times at this level with Spain emerging with four victories and two draws. There have been eight other meetings between the two sides, mostly in World Cup qualifiers. Out of these eight matches Spain has won four, drew two and lost two. The most memorable recent contest with Ireland was in the round of 16 at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and Korea where Spain advanced to the quarter-finals after defeating the Irish on penalties.
Stats: ElMundoDeportivo • Image: Jasper Juinen/Getty
Portuguese referee Pedro Proença will blow the whistle in Thursday’s clash between Spain and Ireland. Proença made waves in May when he was selected to referee the Champions League final that saw Chelsea defeat Bayern Munich. Acknowledged as the best Portuguese referee in the game, he has worked his way up the ladder over the last eight years after overseeing his first international matches in the 2004-05 season. Last year, Proença refereed eight matches in the Champions and Europa leagues, giving out 39 yellows and two red cards.
Lots of action headed our way in Euro 2012 this week. Just so you don’t miss anything:
- Wednesday June 13: Holland v Germany [late match]
- Thursday June 14: Spain v Ireland [late match]
Be sure to come back to totalBarca for more in-depth match reports later this week.