Friday, 29 June 2012

Germany 1 Italy 2

So, we have a Spain versus Italy final in Euro 2012, in Kiev on Sunday, after Italy gave a consummate display of tournament football last night, to overcome the much-fancied German team.

Many people I think expected Italy to employ "spoiling" tactics, to make the game fragmented and bitty, in an attempt to stifle Germany's creative resources.  We under-estimated the self-confidence, patience and quality of Cesare Prandelli's men.  This was a victory for planning and cool heads, as well as talent.

Andrea Pirlo's influence was perhaps not quite as all-pervasive as it had been in the quarter-final, with Germany doing a marginally better job than England of negating him, but he was still involved enough to help steer Italy to a victory.  Some of Pirlo's "minders" in the Italy midfield also raised their game, and this was one of the decisive factors.  For all the inevitable hype about Mario Balotelli's goals, this was a true team performance, dripping with unity, purpose and cohesion.  The versatility and flexibility of Italy's players, positionally and tactically, was key.

Other teams may have been intimidated or daunted by Germany's attacking options, but Italy backed their own tactics and ability, and the goals in the first-half were real "surgical" strikes.

Although Italy's own approach doubtless contributed to this, Germany just lacked a certain something. The final ball was lacking throughout the match, and they relied excessively on optimistic attempts from distance.  It is a moot point whether the Germany coach's recent "rotation" of his attacking players disrupted them, but the malaise I think went deeper than that.

Germany raised their level of intensity at the beginning of the second half, with the hitherto quiet Schweinsteiger taking up more prominent positions, but once this spurt had been repelled, they seemed gradually to run out of ideas.  Indeed, as the second-half progressed, Italy increasingly looked like the sharper outfit, and numerous counter-attacks should really have yielded additional goals.

Pre-match, there had been much debate about the supposed advantage conferred on Germany by the greater rest period which they enjoyed following their quarter-final.  However, Italy scarcely looked affected by fatigue, their economical style, ability to retain possession, and Prandelli's adroit marshalling of his men, all playing a part in this.

Where does this all leave this German team?  They were possibly not as surprised by the outcome of the semi-final as the outside world.  Still, they were out-witted and out-thought.  It was less a case of experience than one of "know-how".   Germany will learn lessons, and this side is clearly still a work in progress.  A case here of growing pains, maybe?  Eventually, though, excuses will not wash or suffice. There is still work to be done between now and the 2014 World Cup.

So, on to the final.  Italy, once again, will have less "recovery" time than the opposition, but strangely yesterday's game did not seem to take that much out of them, either physically or mentally.  Spain, on the other hand, were involved in a attritional struggle with Portugal.  There is a temptation to feel that come the final, Spain will be the "flatter" team, with Italy remaining ebullient and buoyant, still on an upward curve.

Much will depend on which Spain turns out on Sunday evening.  It has the potential to be a cagey affair, but Italy's alleged "caution" has actually been quite entertaining and enlightening to behold.

It should be an intriguing conclusion to the tournament.

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