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Euro Final Preview
Spain will take on Italy on Sunday evening in Kiev in the European Championship final. The kick off time is 21.45 local time which is 19.45 British time. They have already played in this tournament in the group stages in their first game and it something that is becoming a feature of recent European Championships. Holland lost to Russia in their first game in 1988 before beating them in the final. Germany beat Czech Republic in their first game and in the final in 1996 and then in 2004 Greece beat Portugal in their first game and again in the final and now the 8 year cycle has the same events happening again.
Spain are trying to become the first country to retain the European Championship after winning the last tournament in 2008 and also the first to have won 3 consecutive major tournaments after also winning the World Cup in 2010.
They will be favourites to win going into the game but that was also the case for West Germany who went into the Euro final of 1976 having been in the same position as Spain now find themselves in having been the holders of the Euro and World Cups. They were to suffer the agony of losing to the underdogs Czechoslovakia side on penalties and wondering what might have been.
So certainly Spain would have to guard against any complacency and a feeling it is their destiny and know that they will have to work extremely hard for victory.
Spain qualified for the finals having won all 8 games in their group scoring 26 goals and conceding 6. In the actual tournament they have drawn with their final opponents Italy 1-1 before beating Republic of Ireland 4-0 and Croatia 1-0 to qualify for the quarter final as group winners. In the quarters they beat a subdued France team 2-0 and then defeated a lively Portugal 4-2 on penalties in the semi final after the game finished 0-0.
Spain don’t seem to have played to the heights of their other tournament successes but there have been moments when they have played some great attacking football such as against Italy, Ireland and in the extra time period against the Portuguese.
There is no surprise as to how they will play. They like to get possession of the ball and pass, pass, pass and when they’ve done with that they will do some more passing. With the players they have in their team with their great technique they usually have a major amount of possession and are able to go right through the middle of teams with quick passing and movement originating from their classy midfielders Xavi and Iniesta.
Even if a team is doing well against them and not letting them in for a shot at goal the work they have to do usually noticeably tires the opposition well before the end. Their defensive record is probably under rated and again in this tournament they have done brilliantly in this regard. The only goal they have conceded do far was against Italy in the first game when Di Natale scored but they equalised within a couple of minutes. They are a very hard team to get the ball from and get near their goal and when the opposition do you have to then get by the defensive rocks Pique and Ramos or the brilliant goalkeeper Casillas so it is no easy matter.
The way they play is one thing but the actual players out there is another. Barring injuries most people could probably name 10 out of their starting 11 but the mysterious final place could go to any one of about 6 players. Since David Villa’s injury ruled him out of the tournament manager Vicente Del Bosque has picked centre forwards such as Torres or Negredo and played a few games without a recognised forward and played Fabregas. There have also been a few others who have come on as substitute and may fancy that they they have impressed enough to be included such as Pedro, Cazorla and Navas.
Italy have been good in this tournament and among the better teams to watch with their slick passing and constantly wanting to carve out chances.
They easily won their group in qualifying for the finals finishing 10 points ahead of runners up Estonia. They had 8 wins and 2 draws from their 10 games scoring 20 goals and conceding only 2. Included in this was a 3-0 victory they were awarded after the home game with Serbia was abandoned because of violence from the Serbian fans.
In the tournament itself they started with that draw with Spain and then drew 1-1 with Croatia before beating Republic of Ireland 2-0 to qualify as group runners up for the quarter final. They played against England in this game and dominated mostly all the way through but couldn’t score and the game finished 0-0 but Italy went through 4-2- on penalties.
In the semi final they were up against the much fancied Germany team and deservedly came out on top in this one. They won 2-1 thanks to 2 goals from Mario Balotelli and a commanding Italian performance throughout their team.
The Italians have been playing very well and have had good results so far against the 2 big pre tournament favourites Spain and Germany and they will need a huge effort against the talented Spain side, especially their midfield who can keep the ball away from the opposition for a very long time.
Italy, though have their own strengths and in Pirlo have probably the midfielder, in fact the main player who has really shone all through the tournament. From scoring, setting up chances and goals and also keeping possession for long periods he has been far ahead of a lot of other much talked about players. Pirlo will certainly be important if Italy hope to do well but he has a lot of talented team mates such as goalkeeper Buffon, tough defenders Bonucci, Chiellini, Balzaretti, his fellow midfielders Marchisio, Montilivo and De Rossi.
Sometimes during the course of a tournament players come in because of injury or suspension or some players just improve as the games go on. The forwards Balotelli and Cassano certainly seem to have really improved from the early matches. From not looking too sharp and seeming quite clumsy they now seem like a really potent strike force and Balotelli is now equal top scorer going into the last game.
All the Italians will need to play well if they are to have a chance but these 2 will need to be at their sharpest but also not allow their sometimes suspect temperament to get the better of them.
Certainly if it comes down to international experience then it’s really no contest. Spain still have a lot of players who have won the World and Euros before and most of their team have played well over 50 international matches. Italy, although Buffon, Pirlo and De Rossi are still there from their World cup winning team of 2006 have a lot less experience throughout the rest of their team. But if Italy are able to play their natural game they should have a good chance.
Whatever happens it should be a fascinating match and then we will see which one of these great goalkeeping captains hold aloft the trophy- Casillas or Buffon.
- European Championship Semi Finals
A preview of both 2012 European Championship semi finals