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30
Jun 2012
18:03
A preview of the final, by Rafa Benitez

Euro 2012

Rafa Benítez

Spain and Italy will once again play each other to decide the winner of the 2012 European Cup of Nations. We already wrote about this game at the beginning of the tournament and we will now do this again bearing in mind that the past doesn’t count although it may influence the decisions both teams will have to make.

We all ask ourselves whether Del Bosque will play with a centre forward or with a ‘false nine’. We also debate about the possibility of Prandelli playing with the defence of three (or five) he used in the game against Spain during the group stages or if he will continue playing with the back four as he has been doing during the last games with extraordinary results.

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Vicente Del Bosque reacted when things began to get tough for the Spanish team by playing Torres and Navas. The team improved and debates about playing with or without a centre forward began. These debates remained unclear when Negredo was substituted at the beginning of the second half in the game against Portugal. I remember that after the group stages game we wrote in this same blog:

“An important fact was that the pressure they tried to put on Pirlo to stop him playing wasn’t effective because De Rossi, an excellent and versatile midfielder, was playing as a central defender, always controlling the game with no real pressure so he could play long avoiding the pressure on Pirlo and being able to create problems for the Spanish defence. Another aspect. With Italy playing two strikers there was always the chance for one of them to do something, especially with the introduction of Di Natale. The wide players confronted the Spanish full backs and defended their zones well and with Italy having three centre midfield, getting through the middle became difficult.”

Regarding the Spanish national team’s coach reaction we said: ‘Del Bosque saw the problem and changed the shape of the team. Spain then had a striker plus width and ability on the wing with Navas and they were notably better and chances came. Although it is true they lacked accuracy. At least they looked more dangerous.’

A final is something different. But the precedents are there to be analysed and taken into account. The Italians reach the final with some euphoria, everyone speaks of them positively and maybe they didn’t even expect to be there. For their part, the Spanish have to defend their position as favourites. It is not easy to maintain the competitive level after a successful run in last tournaments, and Spain is being asked to keep winning and playing just as well as they have done previously. At this stage of the season, with nine of their eleven starters from Real Madrid and Barcelona, this is not an easy task. Spain had to work hard to get to this game, especially against Portugal, but they are now facing their third consecutive final of a major tournament and this is going to be hugely motivating. I have no doubt that if Spain was able to play with the pace they showed against the Republic of Ireland, pressing the loss of the ball with the same intensity, they would remain clear favourites.
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In their most difficult game, against Portugal, Spain also played with Pedro and Navas, which gave them different alternatives. Pedro provides speed and width and more profundity in attack from the wing. Navas provides width as well and the ability to beat players in one v one situations. A key factor will be to get to the by-line. If Navas does it someone has to get into the box to finish, and then we can start debating about the convenience of playing with a centre forward. Pedro, on the other hand, can show more accuracy in front of goal than Navas, so he could be another option within a system without centre forward.

As we can see, there are plenty of alternatives so we will have to wait for the game to find out the answers. We can try to foresee the consequences of choosing one way or another but, as I usually say, football is an unpredictable game and the result is not always what we expect.

Italy

As mentioned above, the Italian side can play with a line of three or four defenders in the back, which does not affect the presence of two strikers. That could be decisive for Spain. Due to its offensive play, the Spanish defenders can be left in a two against two situation with the Italian strikers. This can always be dangerous, even more so when you have to deal with players such as Cassano or Balotelli.
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The midfield would also remain unaffected. Three players, Pirlo and Marchisio plus De Rossi or Motta (recovered from his injury), depending on the system, complete a group of midfielders with great quality that can always help Pirlo when he is under pressure. Then they will have to decide whether to play with two full backs in a defence of five or whether to do it with one more midfielder so they can play with a diamond shape in front of a defence of four, but we will have to wait and see. Whichever system Italy decides to use one thing is clear for them: against Spain they will have to accumulate many players in the central areas of their defence and midfield and launch quick transitions trying to find their strikers behind the crowded Spanish midfield.

The tiredness Prandelli referred to after Croatia’s game doesn’t seem to be a problem now after beating Germany and with their moral high. Managing substitutions could be a key factor. Del Bosque has improved his team’s performances using fresh legs in the second halves whilst Prandelli has been alternating players in the middle and in the wings with good results, so both coaches seem to know how to get the best out of their squads. Let’s see if their contribution is needed again to find solutions once the game starts.

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