All hail the TRIPLETE Champions. The first nation to ever win Euro-World Cup-Euro consecutively, Spain were simply too much for Italy this evening. The match had already turned into a very difficult affair in the first half, with the Azzurri down by two goals and the injury to Giorgio CHIELLINI; it literally became mission impossible when – having exhausted all their substitutions – Italy were left with 10 men following the hamstring strain to Thiago Motta. What ensued was the most anti-climactic end of a match you could possibly imagine, Spain blowing a further two holes into the sinking blue ship and starting off – almost embarrassed by the ease with which they achieved them – their victory celebrations.
It bears no shame to admit Spain’s superiority this evening. La Roja certainly didn’t produce their best football during this tournament (comments aside on how actually boring their Tiki-Taka is to the neutral spectator, or myself) but clearly saved their most convincing performance for last: a masterful display of defending, pinpoint ball control, and perfectly-timed passing. The much-anticipated battle between Xavi Hernández and Andrea PIRLO unmistakeably turned to the advantage of the former, who engineered the assists for Jordi Alba & Fernando Torres and was at the origin of the first Spanish goal.
By contrast PIRLO, who had been given far too much breathing room by England and Germany, was consistently followed by the Spanish “strikers” (Silva, Fabregas, Iniesta) in quick alternation. It was not systematic man-marking (like some teams have applied against Juve this season, e.g. Catania or Chievo) but rather intelligent pressuring into Italy’s own half, with the nearest passing options skilfully blocked out. Whatever few balls Pirlo touched (he did have 57 passes according to WhoScored.com, though not the highest of the Azzurri this time), he could not turn water into wine like he usually does.
Ultimately, the Azzurri come out of this tournament physically devastated (in addition to the Chiellini / Motta injuries several players were limping or complaining from cramps) but nonetheless proud of an extremely good overall performance. Few (myself included) expected Italy to get this far, and even less so to produce the beautiful soccer they did. Cesare Prandelli, who often struck me as a man infected with the most-dangerous “Ranieri syndrome” (class by the boatload, wins by the emptyload), has truly reconciled Italian calcio with the rest of the world. Many neutral observers have praised Italy for their gameplay, dubbing the Azzurri the most entertaining team of the tournament (as the wins over England and Germany clearly demonstrated).
It is certainly refreshing to see a team, having been the absolute masters of catenaccio & counter-attacking football for so many years, actually work to keep the ball in possession and play an offensive game. If only for that, in addition to leading the Azzurri all the way to the final, Prandelli MUST be praised and entrusted with the 2012 World Cup campaign.
★ ★ ★
As for ItalJuve, the core of Bianconeri performed rather well at Euro 2012 overall. BUFFON was his usual San Gigi (minus the final), BONUCCI-BARZAGLI-BONUCCI only had one full game (Germany) where they were all simultaneously utilized for 90 minutes but otherwise alternated quite well in keeping the Italy defense relatively hermetic (0-4 final goalfest aside, the Azzurri conceded only 3 goals – one of which a late meaningless penalty – in the entire tournament). MARCHISIO was an absolute dynamo in midfield, linking defense and offense in ways fully known by Juve fans, as for PIRLO… well, need we say more?
Andrea was the clear tournament’s MVP until tonight’s match in Kiev kicked off, and it’s a bloody shame things didn’t end differently because it would have made Ballon d’Or voting considerably more interesting come November. Even GIACCHERINI and GIOVINCO found time to make themselves useful, the former receiving considerably more minutes as Italy tested the 3-5-2 in their first two games (vs. Spain & Croatia).
★ ★ ★
Football now takes a few weeks’ break. The Juventus training camp at Châtillon/Saint-Vincent will officially begin July 12, though our ItalJuve players will surely benefit from a few extra days of rest. This should give us a little time to reflect on all the great things we have seen from our boys this year, from the historic 30th Scudetto & Coppa Italia silver medal with Juventus, to the exciting road to the Euro 2012 final with the Azzurri. It has truly been an emotional year for us, and I foresee the trend to continue with many good things (perhaps even greater things) in store for us. And this Italian team as well.
As Prandelli himself declared: “As long as we play football we are a good side. So long as we try to take supremacy in midfield we are a good side, but if we try to protect a result we become a side with a thousand fears. I have to compliment my team, because they really played an excellent tournament.”
LE PAGELLE dei Juventini (by Marco Pantanella)
BUFFON s.v. – There’s very very little Gigi can be blamed for on any of the goals. Aside from picking the ball from his net four times, he’s practically had nothing to do in this final. A very sad ending to a great tournament.
BARZAGLI 5.5 – The only defender not directly involved on any of the “meaningful” Spanish goals (I’m not really counting 3-0 and 4-0… the game had been virtually over for a while by then). Did what he could, but even he in the end had to bow down to Spain’s passing superiority.
BONUCCI 5.0 – Got burnt for speed on the Jordi Alba goal, though it was more the merit of Xavi’s well-timed pass than Bonucci’s fault. Perhaps he could have taken a step forward to attempt an offside trap? In the end, seemed the only one of the Azzurri backline with some small will to keep fighting.
CHIELLINI 5.0 – So so unlucky for Giorgio Recuperated in record-time for the Germany match, it seemed as if his muscular problems were over. After missing the Coppa Italia final, Chiellini had to virtually miss the Euro 2012 one as well. Got beat by Fabregas on the first Spanish goal but like with the Bonucci/Alba situation, it was the extremely well-timed pass sending the Barcelona player in behind Giorgio that did most of the work.
MARCHISIO 5.0 – Completely overshadowed in a midfield full of red. He too like his teammates felt the tiredness.
PIRLO 5.5 – What Germany clearly had NOT done in the semis, that is pick up Pirlo in his own half, Spain did to perfection. The “false 9″ role of Fabregas allowed him to take turns with Iniesta and David Silva to literally prevent the Juventus playmaker from operating. Spain’s ball possession did the rest.
(56′) Thiago Motta
(46′) Di Natale
PLAY-BY-PLAY (by Marco Pantanella)
|•||La Grande Finale: ITALY vs. SPAIN!!! Azzurri in their third Euro final, chasing their second title. Spain after an historic “triple win” with Euros, World Cup, Euros back-to-back.|
|•||Tactically, Prandelli keeps the formation that’s finally “clicked” at Euro 2012 so far: 4-3-1-2 as in the semis, with Ignazio Abate coming back from injury and taking the place of Federico Balzaretti at right-back.|
|•||On the other end, Del Bosque opts for the same starting eleven which faced off vs. Italy in the first match of the group stage. That means Silva, Iniesta and Fabregas up top, with the latter in the much-advertised “false 9″ position.|
|1′||Portugese referee Pedro Proença officiates. And we’re off!!|
|2′||First shot of the match: ball dropping to PIRLO about 25 yards out. He goes for the one-time, several yards wide of Casillas’s goal.|
|4′||Silva goes into penetration centrally. MARCHISIO & CHIELLINI have to combine to neutralize the danger.|
|5′||Long ball from Cassano to Balotelli. Sergio Ramos imposes himself physically and heads it to safety.|
|6′||Muscular De Rossi challenge on Xavi. Good Spanish FK 30 yards in front of Italy’s goal.|
|6′||Sergio Ramos from the set piece: goes for power. Over the bar.|
|7′||Jordi Alba through ball for Iniesta, whose dangerous cross has to be cleared into corner by CHIELLINI. On the ensuing CK, Sergio Ramos heads the ball over.|
|9′||Spain assuming control of the ball in these last few minutes, as expected.|
|10′||Xavi!! After a long passing build-up, Fabregas threads it in for Xavi who goes for the one-time outswinger!!! Narrowly over BUFFON‘s crossbar!!|
|13′||Azzurri holding very little of the ball, opting for quick or long passes towards the strikers, mostly Balotelli.|
|14′||Goal Spain. Silva.|
|14′||The Goal: Through ball for Fabregas inside the box on the right. He gets past CHIELLINI and crosses a hard ball towards Silva, who lets it bounce off his head out of BUFFON‘s reach. 0-1.|
|15′||Balotelli earns a good free kick 20 yards from goal, slightly on the left.|
|16′||PIRLO!! Deflected by the wall, narrowly over the crossbar!|
|16′||PIRLO again, this time from the corner!! Casillas has to swat it away!! Fortunately for Spain it bounces off De Rossi’s back and into goal kick.|
|17′||New Corner Azzurri!! BARZAGLI’s header is cleared for another corner by Sergio Ramos!! Italy piling on the pressure off of these set pieces!|
|20′||Good Lord… Terrible giveaway by CHIELLINI in defense, sets up Arbeloa for a right-wing cross. Fortunately it’s wasted by Spain and Bonucci intercepts.|
|20′||Yet another lost ball by Italy. This time it’s Pirlo(!) who has to intervene with a sliding challenge on Iniesta inside his own box!!|
|20′||F-U-C-K! CHIELLINI got hurt on that last play when he gave the ball away. It’s his old injury He won’t be able to continue.|
|20′||Substitution Italy: Balzaretti comes on for the injured CHIELLINI.|
|24′||Offensive spur by Italy. Culminates into an Abate run and cross from the right wing, but no one at the far post is there to pick it up!|
|25′||Yellow card Piqué for a slide from behind on Cassano.|
|26′||Last-ditch challenge by De Rossi to stop Iniesta wreaking havoc in front of the Italy box.|
|27′||DANGER ITALY! Balzaretti cross from the left, misses Balotelli’s head by a hairbreadth!! Casillas then gets a touch and retrieves the ball.|
|29′||Cassano!! Great De Rossi ball threaded through for Fantantonio, who fakes out Arbeloa and then tries his luck with a low finish. Too weak and too central to worry Casillas!|
|30′||PIRLO long-range FK attempt, from nearly 40 yards. A few yards wide to the left.|
|31′||PIRLO tries to find Abate on the right wing. Puts too much weight in the pass. Goal kick.|
|33′||Cassano!! With his first real powerful effort of the tournament, Fantantonio stings the gloves of Casillas with a 20-yard blast! Punched away by the Spanish keeper!|
|34′||Kiev stadium starting to boo the Spaniards for their long-winded possession-football. All the same, Italy struggling considerably to keep the ball for even moderate stretches of time.|
|38′||Balotelli!! After a good one-two pass with Montolivo, goes for a powerful mid-range effort!! Not too far over Casillas’s crossbar.|
|41′||Goal Spain. Jordi Alba. It’s really not looking good for Italy now…|
|41′||The Goal: Jordi Alba run on the left wing. Xavi holds the ball and times his pass perfectly so that Alba can get behind the defense and BONUCCI, and beat BUFFON with a low shot at the first post. 0-2.|
|43′||Montolivo!! The ball filters through to the midfielder, who fires off a powerful blast from just outside the box!! Casillas punches it away!|
|44′||Yellow card BARZAGLI for a cycnical foul on Iniesta, who had skipped past him on the left wing.|
|45′||Silva effort from mid-range. Right at Gigi, who holds the ball well.|
|46′||Half-time. Like the Germany semifinal, the better team so far is leading by 2 goals. Prandelli will have to take some risks in the 2nd half because right now the Azzurri are getting completely suffocated by Spain’s ball control.|
|•||Particularly, the efficient pressing on PIRLO right into the Azzurri’s half is cutting a lot of offensive options for Italy. Too often we’ve seen the backline struggle to play the ball to open players, because Spain are defending very high up the field.|
|46′||Subtitution Italy:: Di Natale comes on for Cassano. Speed with ADN & Power with SuperMario seems to be Prandelli’s answer for the second half.|
|46′||Di Natale!! First chance for the Azzurri, with Abate getting free on the right and crossing it for ADN. His powerful header is half-a-yard over!!|
|47′||Here’s Spain’s reply: Fabregas 20-yard effort very narrowly wide of Buffon’s left post!|
|48′||DANGER SPAIN!! Fabregas goes in from the right, skips past Balzaretti, then Bonucci, Balzaretti sticks a foot in which throws off Buffon! With the ball hagning in the 6-yard box Abate has to scramble to get it to safety before Iniesta can poke it in!!|
|49′||Appeals for a Spanish penalty waved away, as Sergio Ramos’s header hits the arm of BONUCCI. Clearly a ball-to-hand case, but we’ve seen PKs given for a lot less…|
|51′||Di Natale!! Montolivo through ball for ADN onside inside the box!! He turns around for the left-footed shot but it’s straight at Casillas! On the follow-up ADN tries to cross it for Balotelli but the Spanish keeper retrieves it easily!|
|54′||Dear Lord almighty. Another Spanish through ball catches the Italian backline with their pants down. Fortunately this time Fabregas misses his control and the play dies down.|
|55′||Pirlo with a great aerial through ball for Di Natale! Perfect timing, but Pirlo’s pass is a tad too heavy!! So close!!|
|56′||Substitution Italy: Thiago Motta comes on for Montolivo. Prandelli evidently feeling the Azzurri midfield is being overrun too much, but this was his last substitution. Not leaving many offensive options…|
|57′||Di Natale fouled on the right. FK Italy.|
|58′||PIRLO swings in the cross off the set piece. Casillas swats it away. It lands to Balotelli, who goes for the mid-range shot. Over.|
|59′||Substitution Spain: Pedro comes on for David Silva.|
|61′||Thiago Motta stays down after an acceleration. He’s holding his hamstring. From bad to worse for the Azzurri…|
|62′||Thiago Motta is stretchered off. His final lasted less than 5 minutes. Italy will have to play the remainder of the match with 10 players.|
|63′||PIRLO FK from the left wing. Too long for BONUCCI, who goes down tussling with Busquets. A foul is called against him though.|
|67′||Both the Azzurri and their fans seemd to have lost all heart and motivation. This match is now a simple formality & administration for Spain. The worst possible ending to a tournament final you could imagine…|
|69′||Fabregas on the left is stopped by BARZAGLI. Balzaretti does the same thing on Arbeloa on the opposite side.|
|71′||Balotelli chested control, he tries to send it long for Di Natale. Flagged offside but it was very close.|
|74′||Pedro & Fabregas combine to send the latter through on the right. His cross is cleared by Abate, then back to BUFFON by BONUCCI. Good defending.|
|75′||Italian defense panting to stop Iniesta, then Busquets outside their box. Obviously, they lose the ball to Spain straight after that…|
|75′||Substitution Spain: F.Torres comes on for Fabregas.|
|77′||The Azzurri body language right now is unmistakable. They’re really struggling to find the energy to finish the match. As I am with this Play-by-Play…|
|77′||Sergio Ramos with some theatrics goes down inside the Italian box. Balzaretti was marking him closely. No foul says the ref.|
|79′||Pedro stopped for offside after a Spanish counter. He had missed his shot anyway, right in front of BUFFON.|
|80′||Through ball for Torres stopped by BONUCCI. Corner Spain.|
|81′||THE most unbelievable stat of the night: ball possession is 50-50% says my TV. Yeah but no, sorry, that is complete bullcrap.|
|83′||Balzaretti limping after a challenge. BONUCCI struggling with cramps. What a nightmare for the Azzurri…|
|84′||Goal Spain. F.Torres. Keep shooting on the sinking ship why don’t you…|
|84′||The Goal: Ball intercepted. Xavi sends Torres through with Abate barely trying to set up for the offside trap. Instep shot to the bottom-right corner, GIGI gets a small touch but not enough. 0-3.|
|86′||Substitution Spain: Mata comes on for Iniesta.|
|87′||Goal Spain. Mata. Sure, why not.|
|88′||The Goal: Another through ball, another touch, Torres passes it back to Mata, goal into the open net. 0-4.|
|89′||Ref, just put us out of our misery… PLEASE!|
|90′||THREE MINUTES OF ADDED TIME(!!!) Referee Proença worrying about protocol here – 6 substitutions, 30 seconds each. But ending the game right then and there, that would have shown REAL balls.|
|93′||Ramos with the most useless & irreverent of backheels: he tries to fool Buffon at the first post from a low Torres pass. Have some respect, jackass.|
|93′||Full-time whistle. Thank God.|
|•||Hats off to Spain for the “TRIPLETE”. But even their celebrations clearly show that tonight was a no-contest. They almost feel embarassed at the ease of this 4-0 victory, against a 10-men Italy ravaged by injuries.|
|•||Injuries aside, Italy & Prandelli had clearly no answer for Spain’s gameplay this evening. Then bad luck made it a helluva lot worse…|
|•||Not many Italian players crying or feeling overly sad. Just a big blank stare. They were outplayed for 45 minutes, then fate conspired to take their few fighting chances away. Biggest disappointments are on the faces of Chiellini & Bonucci.|
|•||Balotelli also, at first angry and storming away to the changing room, back for the awards ceremony and looking pretty dejected. Pirlo is crying.|
|•||Gotta say though: before June no one expected Italy to get this far. Certainly had a great tournament, final & bad luck aside. GRAZIE RAGAZZI!|
|GOALSCORERS: 14′ D.Silva (S), 41′ Jordi Alba (S), 84′ F.Torres (S), 88′ Mata (S)|
|SPAIN (4-3-3): Casillas – Arbeloa, Piqué, Ramos, Jordi Alba – Busquets, Xavi, Xabi Alonso – D.Silva (58′ Pedro), Fabregas (75′ F.Torres), Iniesta (86′ Mata). COACH: Del Bosque.|
(UNUSED SUBSTITUTES: V.Valdes, Reina, Albiol, Javi Martinez, Juanfran, Cazorla, Navas, Llorente, Negredo).
|ITALY (4-3-1-2): BUFFON – Abate, BARZAGLI, BONUCCI, CHIELLINI (21′ Balzaretti) – MARCHISIO, PIRLO, De Rossi – Montolivo (56′ Thiago Motta) – Balotelli, Cassano (1′ Di Natale). COACH: Prandelli.|
(UNUSED SUBSTITUTES: De Sanctis, Sirigu, Ogbonna, Maggio, Nocerino, GIACCHERINI, Diamanti, Borini, GIOVINCO).