Spain v Italy
The final of the tournament takes place amid the golden domes of the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. Spain current World and European champions take on Italy, the conquerors of England.
The Ukrainian writer, Mikhail Bulgakov sets his classic novel The White Guard amongst the turmoil of revolution in Kiev. Turmoil enveloped the Italians as they entered this tournament, amidst allegations of match fixing, politicians calling for the team to be withdrawn and the manager accepting to do likewise if required. The team was not withdrawn, and history suggests the Italians may respond positively to such circumstances, the 1982 World Cup victory following similar events. Spain, by way of contrast, could enter the competition in a state of calm. Having won the previous two major tournaments for national teams, and then breezing through qualification without defeat, the Spanish could be forgiven for feeling confident.
The two sides met in their opening group fixture. Whilst the match was drawn, the Italy were the better of the two teams. Spain then cruised pass the Irish and went on to beat Croatia narrowly. The Italians finished second to Spain in the group after drawing with Croatia and beating Ireland. In the second round the Spanish beat a French team who performed poorly, whilst the Italians beat a defensively minded English team on penalties. Spain opted not to attack for the majority of their semi final against Portugal, only rousing themselves to attack near the end, and going on to knock out Cristiano Ronaldo et al on penalties. By way of contrast Italy played superbly against a highly rated Germany with Mario Balotelli scoring twice, the second of which was a wonderful strike.
The core of the Spanish team comes from Barcelona and it is therefore no surprise they play in a similar style of fine passing favoured by the Catalans. A debt of gratitude is therefore owed to Johan Cruyff. The unavailability of David Villa through injury together with an embarrassment of riches in midfield has led Spain’s manager, Vicente Del Bosque, in some games to do away with forwards and play extra midfielders, albeit with Cesc Fabregas in an advanced role. An absence of strikers has meant the Spanish do not have the chances to score that their possession of the ball merits. Del Bosque does have strikers, such as Fernando Torres, Alvaro Negredo and Fernando Llorente, at his disposal and Spain, in this writer’s opinion, will do better against the Italians if one or two get on the pitch in Kiev’s Olympic Stadium.
Cesare Prandelli has the Italians dispensing with defensive tactics of old and playing an attacking passing based game. It is as if the Italians have watched and learnt from the Spanish sides that won World and European titles. The Italians will line up in a 4-4-2 formation, with their forward line led by the enigmatic Balotelli and ably assisted by Antonio Cassano who has matured into the role and plays in an intelligent fashion. Andrea Pirlo acts as conductor to the Italy team.
One to watch:
Spain - Xavi
Italy - Who else but Balotelli, the Manchester City forward is playing well, scoring, appearing to be happy and even smiling after scoring, expect fireworks albeit not literally.
Spain to win 6 / 5
Italy to win 11 / 4
A draw 11 / 5
If Spain play without strikers, expect a dour game narrowly edged by the Italians. However, if the Spanish play with strikers, expect a joyous game of wonderful attacking passing football narrowly edged by the Italians. This is not to say Spain can’t win, they are not reigning World and European Champions for nothing.
Spain 1 Italy 2