Although saying that Italy will win Euro 2012 as we head into the Final on Sunday wouldn’t be such a risky statement to make, saying they would win it before the tournament started sounded insane. For Spain, it’s been down this road, to this moment, for about five years, looking to make history.
No team has ever won three major tournaments one after another. Two in a row has happened. West Germany did it in 1972 (Euro) and 1974 (World Cup), France did it in 1998 (World Cup) and 2000 (Euro), Spain are in the middle of their streak, beginning in 2008 (Euro) and carrying on in 2010 (World Cup).
Somewhere during this tournament, the roles have changed. Italy began as the anti-football defensive team, just looking to come away with a draw. Spain were the favorites, along with Germany, to win this tournament with more than just results. It was about winning with style, like Spain showed Europe in 2008. But just as Barca’s sun seems to be fading just a bit this season, it looked like Spain’s infatuation with playing beautiful football is over.
In Italy, it’s always about the result, with a bit of class. That’s how the great Italian teams are like. This Prandelli team didn’t seem like a winner at first, but they grew on the fans and the tournament rather slowly. The first match against Spain was a poaching of a draw, but they played much better and more, shall we say, positively, against Croatia. That was good enough for a draw as well. Ireland? Worst team in the tournament, not really posing a problem.
England weren’t their to play, but Italy came through. Once by dominating the match and playing to win, and for a second time by grabbing the right end of the lucky stick and coming through the penalty shootout. Against Germany, it was pretty close to a masterpiece. The enhilatated the German midfield and should have scored at least two more goals. It’s now about progression, and playing Spain like equals, or regression to negative tactics.
It’s never wrong to learn from others, and Portugal showed, just like Italy did in the first match of Group C, how to stop or at least really make it hard for Spain to create and use their possession and passing for anything useful. Portugal had trouble of their own because they relied too heavily on Ronaldo’s ability to finish, but Italy are a bit more versatile and unpredictable regarding where their offense comes from.
For Spain, it’s no longer about impressing and playing well. It’s just about winning another title, no longer being the critics’ favorite team due to their ‘boring’ style. For Italy, it’s winning over fans and winning the odds, which seemed pretty dim as the team entered the tournament with plenty of problems at home.