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Sunday, 8 July 2012

Euro 2012: That's that

It's been about a week since the Euro 2012 final, and I think I'm ready to write about it now. Five stages of grief and all that. Also, I was actually in Italy for the match, with no access to the internet, so the write-up had to wait until now.

I've been banging on all tournament about upsets and surprises, but this match turned out to be both a surprising one and business-as-usual, all at the same time. Business as usual because Spain beat Italy, but surprising in that Spain actually scored more than one goal on the way to doing that. Slightly embarrassingly, the only other team to concede 4 goals playing against Spain was Ireland; at the time everyone just assumed that was because Ireland was so crap and that proper teams could never concede that many against a team that doesn't play strikers.

Guess Spain showed us, huh?

It was a very odd game, though. After beating Germany pretty convincingly, Italy looked a bit slow against Spain, a bit panicky, and not quite the dominant force they presented against England. The Italian announcers insisted the team was exhausted, which may or may not have been true, but struck me as a little odd, given that Germany had 48 hours to prepare for the semi-final and still rolled over.

Probably a better explanation was that Italy got it badly wrong, and Spain managed to take advantage of it. Evidence for this was Italy's injury problems during the match. Cesare Prandelli had to use up one substitution in the first half to take off an injured Giorgio Chiellini, and then his bid to replace Riccardo Montolivo with Thiago Motta went badly wrong when Motta went off injured and left Italy with ten men for the rest of the match.

For the example of Chiellini, he wasn't at his best for the start of the game (the first goal may have been caused by his mistake, in fact), and after he went off Italy did look a lot more positive. The case of Motta is a little more worrying, however, because it came about because of some probably useless tinkering on Prandelli's part. Montolivo had been playing well before being taken off, and it wasn't out of the realm of possibility that Italy could have scored with him on the field; instead Prandelli opted not only for a more defensive formation with Motta, but also for a slower group of midfielders. With that in mind, it's not surprising that Spain's "four Pirlos" could run rings around Italy's lone Pirlo, Andrea.

This was the second instance of Prandelli squandering his substitutions, (the first was the game against England). Admittedly, Italy got away with that one, but it points to a slightly worrying tendency on his part to tinker - somewhat like Claudio Ranieri, who earned the nickname of "the Tinkerman" during his time at Chelsea.

It's impossible to tell what would have happened if Montolivo had stayed on, but I'd like to think it wouldn't have been a 4-0 drubbing.

That said, I think it's worth noting that despite the scoreline Italy had an impressive game, keeping a lot more of the possession than other teams have managed. And at the same time, they kept a positive outlook throughout (mostly), in contrast with the Italy-Spain game that graced Euro 2008.

So there goes another tournament. The next thing we have to look forward to is the World Cup in Brazil, two years from now (although rest assured I'll be blogging the Confederations Cup next summer). Everybody will be looking for Spain to continue its onslaught on the trophy cabinet (and the stats pages, by being the first European team to win in South America); at the same time, this will be Brazil's big chance to finally win the tournament on home soil, an achievement that's eluded it so far.

A lot can happen in two years, though at the moment those two sides look like the only ones with a possibility of winning. But in that case, Prandelli said it best before the match against the Germans: "Then I might as well just go home." While the World Cup is never quite as open as the European Championships, with luck all of the big teams will arrive in Brazil in two years at full strength and ready to challenge for the title.

It could happen, right?