It’s become quite common for Italy and Spain to meet in international tournaments of late, with the current world number one usually coming out with their hand on top. As before, they enter their 2013 Confederations Cup semifinal clash as clear favorites to advance.
Italy have plenty of reasons for concern, which begin with the 4-0 defeat they suffered last time they faced Spain in a competitive match, the 2012 Euro final. Their form in the group stage has been adequate, but the fact that their famed defense conceded 8 goals in three matches, including three from Japan and four from Brazil has to be a cause for concern.
Italy have been switching formations, tactics and personnel throughout the tournament, and with Mario Ballotelli and Ignazio Abate ruled out of them match, more changes and tweaks are bound to come. Andrea Pirlo and Ricardo Montolivo will probably play, but their both at less than 100%, and it’s become too well known of a fact that marking Pirlo closely for most of the match, even if it isn’t the Spanish way, takes Italy out of the match offensively.
With those worries in mind, there’s also the opponent to worry about. Spain looked excellent against Nigeria and efficient against a tough Uruguayan side, in a match that wasn’t as close as the 2-1 scoreline suggests. It seems that no matter the lineup, the quality of passing and play doesn’t change. Having Andres Iniesta and Xavi on the pitch offers more precise passing, but the Mata experience, including playing with a striker (probably Fernando Torres or Roberto Soldado, who might be out with an injury) brings a bit more speed and movement to the team.
Spain are no longer playing with two deep midfielders due to the absence of Xabi Alonso, but even the 4-5-1 and their own special version of it doesn’t seem to stop the pressing and the passing. Italy had no problem making life difficult in the tournament opener last year by playing a 3-5-2 that we haven’t seen so far in Brazil. Playing a 4-4-2 that we’ve seen so far might leave them too exposed against a team that beats them at almost every position on the pitch.
Prediction – Italy are missing their biggest wild card and don’t have their most important player at his best shape. Unless free kicks and set pieces fall to their laps, it’s hard seeing them developing anything remotely close to an organized attack, and it’ll be another Spanish win en route to the final everyone expected to see.