Since their first meeting in Euro 2012, it looks like Spain and Italy have gone in opposite paths regarding their tactical self-assurance and love affair with critics and fans, which still leaves Spain as the favorites to win the final and claim their third consecutive major title, but no one’s really sure that Italy are real underdogs anymore.
When the two met in Gdansk earlier in June, it was all about how Italy have come to interfere with Spain’s slick passing style, that suddenly doesn’t seems as attractive and imaginative a it once did. Maybe everyone got used to it, or maybe Spain and that style just doesn’t seem as innovative anymore. And not to speak of the 4-6-0 which seems to annoy everyone, while Spain don’t make the best of their formations if Jesus Navas or Fernando Torres are not in the lineup.
Then there’s history, which is on Italy’s side. Spain have never beaten Italy in a competitive match, just like Germany, a much more talented team than Italy, showed that there’s something behind these records as they fell apart in the semifinal. But you’ve got to give Prandelli and his crew much more credit.
He has Andrea Pirlo, who showed this season in Juventus and in the tournament that when injury free, he’s still one of the best central midfielders in the world. His influence and decision making on the pitch has been perfect in the knockout stages, reminding everyone of how good the Italian team can be in combining defensive sternness with a creative and attacking flavor to all that tactical discipline.
The lineup? Probably not any different than the one that showed up against Germany, meaning all eyes are on Mario Balotelli, who’ll try to show consistency for once, after his flexing stare has become an internet sensation over the last few days. A good day from him, and it won’t matter how much possession Spain have in the middle of the park. The Italian long balls and counter attacks have proved to be killers, with the right kind of finishing.
Del Bosque himself doesn’t seem to know what lineup he’ll use. Maybe he’s confused as well, as he’s regressed from the idea of playing with a striker after getting what he wanted from the 4-5-1 only once in the tournament. The 4-6-0 means Cesc Fabregas will probably be in the lineup, earning his spot after scoring the winning penalty against Portugal.
Prediction - I have gone against Italy all this tournament, and that hasn’t been wise. Still, you’ve got to stick to your winning horse. Spain won’t have an easy time against the Italian midfield and defense, but are just one level above the rest of the competition when they’re good. As this tournament has shown, playing at less than 100% for various reasons is still enough to get by. It’ll be enough this time, to win Euro 2012 as well.