The final is approaching, I don't think there's a better time for me to write my first ever article. I've decided to begin by playing the sympathy card as everything you see before you will be written via mobile as I'm unable to gain access to a laptop at the moment (this is where you feel sorry for me), hence the inability to glam this article up with pictures etc. To cheer you up why don't I amaze you with an interesting fact that I hope you don't know (fingers crossed): Since 1988 every other Euro tournament, or every 8 years if you prefer, the teams that meet in the final have already played in their initial group games, this is the fourth if your too lazy to count! Now time for the nitty gritty stuff...
What you should expect to see from this match is a return of pure dominance of possession from Spain as I'm sure Xavi and co. will find much more space and time since Italy won't close down as fast as Portugal were and I don't see Prandelli specifying the role of man marking Xavi to one of his players unlike the job Veloso was given by Bento. Italy will be forced to defend deep for most of the game but if they dedicate men forward even whilst they're on the back foot they could manage to counter as they did from the German's corner in their previous game.
For the Spaniards this tournament I believe they're guilty of over passing it in the final third since they lacking any real penetration that they could've achieved if Villa was available. Iniesta has tried to fill this gap by charging at defenders and taking them on but he hasn't actually achieved much results also Torres is capable of running in behind defenders when Del Bosque gives him the chance but neither of these players fill the void of the World Cup 2010's joint top goal scorer and Spain's all time top scorer. The Italian's best choice of attack would be on the break, especially down Spain's left hand side as both Iniesta and their left back Alba are very attacking minded, Alba likes to skip past behind Iniesta and whip in a few crosses or they could even attack Arbeloa's flank as he showed his incapability to tackle in their previous game.
If Balotelli decides to show up his clinical finishing will be the key to an Italian victory as chances will come few and far between. I'm sure Cassano will continue to play generously as he has been all tournament, he's been holding the ball up very well and teeing up his teammates quite often. Obviously another major cog in the Italian's machine will be Pirlo, who has always been fantastic but some people were doubting he still had it until England repetitively gave him acres of space and he showed there's still life in the old dog yet!
You should definitely expect many long balls from Italy and the odd lobbed through ball, all Italy need is one inch perfect pass from Pirlo and one good finish from Balotelli to rock Spain's world as the last time they conceded a goal in either regulation or extra time in the knockout phase of a major international tournament was 27th June 2006 from the great Zinedine Zidane. Expect a tight and nervy goal-less first half which will suit Del Bosque's tactics of tiring the opponent through passing them to death, and since they'll had most of the possession, they can't really concede can they?!
Facts & Figures
For all you stats lovers, I gathered a couple of interesting facts.
- To back up my prediction of long balls, an interesting fact is that Italy have attempted 277 long balls, the most of all teams in Euro 2012 with Pirlo having attempted the most of all outfield players of any team in this tournament at 63.
- Cassano has created the 15 open play chances, the most at Euro 2012.
- Spain have completed 3265 passes in total, the highest of Euro 2012 and 1105 more than Italy who have the third highest.
- In European championship games including qualifying, Spain are unbeaten in their last 28 whilst Italy are unbeaten in their last 18.
Trends that go against Tiki Taka Spain prevailing as champions
If you enjoy reading the odd superstition and want to know what fate has to say, here it is:
- No team has ever defended the Henri Delaunay cup.
- The last 3 major international tournaments (World Cup 06, Euro 08 & World Cup 10) have seen a team knockout Germany and lift the trophy.
- Another interesting fact is that this season 'the blues' (which Italy will play in) seem to be prevailing whilst leaving 'the reds' (which Spain play in) runners up. Three examples are; Chelsea in the FA cup with Liverpool runners up, Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League with Bayern Munich runners up, Manchester City in the Premier League with Manchester United runners up and funnily enough in all these examples the winning managers are Italian!
After a stalemate first half of Spain playing their 'boring' football as people are disgracefully calling it nowadays (I won't start on that now), I'm hoping Italy score the opening goal in the second half as it'll be the only chance they have to win it. I strongly believe if Italy concede first they'll lose as Spain are the masters of seeing a 1-0 victory through. If Italy score first, I'm guessing Spain will react well and equalise as they did in their group game. Spain have the advantage if it goes to extra time as they showed in their semifinal, as long as they use their substitutes well they can play at a good pace however Italy showed they have good fitness levels when they played against England. Spain will probably get the winner in extra time but obviously anything can happen.
The predictions I've thought of are optimistic of what I'm hoping will be an exciting encounter but I think Spain will become the first team to win a hattrick of major international trophies. Either Spain 1-0 Italy OR Spain 2-1 Italy (a.e.t)