What an exciting tournament this has been. I’m so glad I moved all engagements and events away from the game times to watch all of them without issue. Every four years, we are blessed with the best in football to come to one tournament and battle it out for the trophy of dreams. I just loved this whole tournament, through all the good times and bad, the upsets and bad referee calls. Doing a Euro rap-up will be hard, but I am thinking about it. But we are here to talk about the finals! The test of the best has whittled the contestants down to two teams. I will say that I am semi-surprised that Spain got here, as I thought that the weaker team because of the injury issues would cause too many chemistry issues. As for Italy, I didn’t think they would make it out of the group stages, as Croatia looks much tougher than Italy did in the qualifiers. But they have proved themselves and more, having a tough road to the finals and overcoming all the obstacles, as they are also yet to lose a game. On paper, this game would seem to go to Spain hands down. However, the back to back showings of Italy against England and Germany have proven themselves of a final spot and worthy of giving the defending champions a fight for their trophy. Just a quick game breakdown on what to expect and the main keys for these teams to take their trophy!
Spain- As one of the favorites for this tournament, it isn’t that big of a surprise that the defending champions are up to make history as the first team to do a three-peat, which will probably secure them as the greatest international team in history. However, I have a major issue with what I saw against Portugal, something that Italy might have noticed to use against Spain. Like I said before, the Spanish defense is great, but lacks in the actual defenders area, means very few amounts of players know how to defend. Unfortunately, this is a team that cannot afford to defend, as their goal chances come from having the ball for long bouts of time. This is what Spain has to do in order to have a shot at taking this before penalties. Spain has to get in the rhythm as fast as they can and get the passing going. I really don’t need to say more about that, as everyone knows that after that, they know not to overextend themselves and make sure the pace is there before the finishes commence. If Spain plays their normal game, they will have more chances to look at the goal than they did in Portugal. But the counter that Portugal displayed in the semifinals is very obvious and very simple – keep Spain out of the 18. Without David Villa, Spain is left to use Xabi Alonso to take shots from outside. Having only one to two people able to take shots is almost useless and may as well be banned from their style of play this year. Portugal showed that keeping Spain away with numbers and the strong defending of Pepe and Bruno Alves proved to work as a defensive strategy, something I believe Italy will adopt. De Rossi is more than capable of filling that crucial center defense role the relied on Pepe for the Portuguese. The solution to a turtle is patience. You must stretch a turtling team to diminish the numbers in the box and then work accordingly. As good as Italy is defensively, they are not as strong as Portugal in that area and are instead a more attack based team. What I mean by that is Spain needs to not get frustrated and work their magic, as once they realize that they are getting the ball for massive periods of time, they can take their time with their attack. As for individuals and formation, I feel like Spain is at their strongest in a 4-5-1 with a true striker up front. The two times Del Bosque tried to do the six midfielders approach, they both ended with no goals until that ideal was changed. I would say throw Llorente up there, being a phenomenal striker, but he hasn’t played all tournament. Therefore I think the solution is Torres. I might be a bit biased being a Chelsea fan, but Torres scored the winning goal four years ago after not scoring any in the tournament games before that. As much as people downplay him, he is deadly. He knows how to score and seems to get better and have more confidence with every goal he scored. The rest of the team should stay the same, but I say the addition of Fabregas should come earlier than 60 minutes if no progression has occurred. Other than that, Casillas will have to be on point as always and save his team here and there.
Italy- Like I said before, I did not expect Italy to make it here. But they have proved themselves with their strong offense and withstanding defense that they deserve to be here instead of the failing Germany. As I said before, I think that the key to winning this match will be similar to Portugal’s key and Italy’s key to Germany in the semifinals- keep them away from the 18. This is not a very easy thing to do against Spain, being that they have all the best passers in the world. But this is key to keeping it scoreless, which is key to winning the game. Trying to come back against Spain is difficult, and the second you commit more to offense you will lose more possession. That’s kinda of a death sentence against a side like Spain. But if they can stay tight and play strong defense, they will have a backbone for the offense to build on. Once the offense is built, the main idea will be the same as against Germany-keep the ball as long as possible. Like Germany, Spain is a very flow-based team. Their momentum dictates how dangerous they will be. They are a snowball rolling down a hill, but if you never let that snowball get big, it is easy to deal with. That will mainly rely on the mastermind Pirlo, who is up against a couple of others for my player of the tournament. With his expert precision and experience on the field, I’m sure that Italy will know what to do with the ball. Playing the same way the played against England and Germany, I do believe that they can put one in the net during regulation. Of course this means holding the ball, something that Portugal did expertly and it works for them fairly well as a tactic. If you keep the possession of Spain under 62%=ish, you are crippling a major part of their game. They will feel like the need to take with the time that they have and rush their build up unnecessarily, something they did against Spain. Most people will say that defense is the way to go against Spain. As much as I agree with that, I believe that an all-out offense is even better. If you can get the first blow and put them on their backfoot, they hits will just keep coming. Eventually, like Germany, a goal will happen. I absolutely loved the 4-1-3-2 idea that Italy used against Germany, and if executed again I believe it can work well. Something that Italy has that Spain does not is outside 18-shooters. Cassano, Balotelli, and Pirlo can all shoot very well and with precision. This will worry the defense of Spain and make them push out of the 18, farther than their comfort zone. This is where Pirlo needs to strike, getting Balotelli and Cassano behind the line with the ball. This is something that this pro knows how to do and can beat this defense. As amazing as I think Casillas is, I think is weakest point is being out of the goal. When he needs to step up far, he moves very little from his position, making any ball out of his reach possible to pass. Getting behind the 18 should do that just fine. The main players for Italy is Pirlo and Buffon. Pirlo for the reasons stated above, but Buffon will have some mess to deal with. He was a little shaky in the beginning of the Germany game, but with World Cup Final experience, I think this will be something old for him. He will have shots on goal against him, and his amazing keeper skills will have to bleed out in this game.
That’s all I have to say. Good luck to both teams, and what a great tournament it has been!