Euro 2012 draws to a conclusion on Sunday with Spain and Italy contesting the final of what has been an eventful competition, thankfully it has been events on the pitch that have grabbed the headlines across Europe despite fears before the tournament of crowd problems relating to racial abuse and overzealous policing, such fears have proved to be, in the main, misplaced.
So to the finalists, and whilst most pundits and fans alike would have selected Spain as a finalist before the start of the tournament, very few would have selected Italy as a finalist before the start of the tournament. Having entered the tournament on the back of three consecutive defeats, latterly a 3-0 defeat to Russia, Italy wouldn’t have fallen into the category of ‘Dark Horses’ for many people, myself included.
Spain, as pre-tournament favourites, have fulfilled the expectation that comes with that mantle thus far, as they seek to become the first country to win three successive major tournaments, a feat that has even alluded Brazil. It would be harsh to say their performances have dipped due to the pressure of the achievement before them, they have seldom played like a team feeling the pressure or nerves throughout the tournament.
Much has been made of the Spanish selection and their all round performances, certainly they have not played with the aplomb or flair that they showed in World Cup 2010 and more so in Euro 2008, but it is worth noting that they are without David Villa, a void which Spain have struggled to fill despite Fernando Torres’s brace against Ireland.
Spain have certainly enjoyed the vast majority of possession in all their matches but with the exception of the 4-0 defeat of Ireland, they have lacked a cutting edge in their matches, failing to convert their superior possession and shots into goals. However they have conceded just 1 goal in the tournament, so as maligned as their possession game is, it has served the purpose of winning games or at the least avoiding defeat.
Italy have surprised many with the progression of their performances over the last fortnight, coming into the tournament under the cloud of arrests following the investigation in alleged match-fixing, the parallels between the backdrop to 2006 World Cup victory and the backdrop to this tournament have been unspoken by the Italian camp but history could well be on the brink of being repeated.
Italy have shown remarkable progression during the tournament, Andrea Pirlo’s performances have been outstanding, in many people’s eyes he has been the man of the tournament. Following the 4-2 penalties defeat of England, Italy were widely written off ahead of their semi final against Germany, however they produced an efficient and effective performance that stunned the Germans.
Italy rode their luck at times in the early stages of their matches against Germany and their group stage match against Croatia, however as if so often the case, fortune favours the brave and in all their matches, Italy have made every attempt to seize the initiative in early stages of their matches, the victory against Germany was testament to that.
On paper, Spain look to be clear favourites for this match, their ability to retain possession not only creates a number of goal scoring opportunities, it is also restricts their opposition’s ability to create chances on goal. However, Italy have defied the pundits and expectations throughout the tournament and will fancy their chances to do so again. Spain will have defend better than Germany and England if they are to win their third successive tournament.
I believe this game will be much the same as the group match between these two nations, a very tight encounter in which Spain will have the majority of the possession but Italy will provide a potent threat on the counter attack. Italian’s progression during the tournament and the weight of history on Spain led me to predict an Italian victory by 1-0 or 2-1, however it would not surprise me to see this game go all the way to penalties.