Italy has awoken, and both teams ready to die for the cause

After a thoroughly enjoyable three weeks of fantastic football, thrilling matches, and stunning goals, we’ve finally come to the show-piece event of the whole tournament. Euro 2012’s final kicks off on Sunday, July 1st, with the winner and runner-up of Group C, Spain and Italy repectively, competing for the trophy.

Thiago Motta and Andrés Iniesta ready to do battle again

Both teams have had great stories in how they reached the final, and both very different. Spain were the pre-tournament favourites to win the Championships, while many expected Italy to crash and burn like they did in 2010, with the domestic disruption going on at home for them. The Italian league and many players have been emboiled in a betting scandal that has even seen Italian left-back Domenico Criscito left at home for the tournament.

But out of the Italian ashes rises the phoenix, with players such as Federico Balzaretti, Daniele De Rossi, and the ageless Andrea Pirlo performing superbly. Balotelli, while sometimes being well off his game, has come up with two goals of immesurable importance in the semi-final, with a display he won’t forget any time soon.

(Key battles below)

Italy also reached the final by dispatching of the much-fancied Germany team in the semi-final. Germany finished runners-up in 2008, and third place in the 2010 World Cup. Germany’s dynamic, vibrant, and exciting young talents from two years ago had two more years of maturing, with players like Mesut Ozil, Mario Gomez and Sami Khedira improving greatly in that time.

Nevertheless, Italy’s cleverness proved too much for Jogi Low’s side, with Montolivo, Cassano, and Balotelli getting the better of them in their 2-1 victory.

Spain on the other hand have been favourites for every game they’ve played in this tournament. An easy win against Ireland coupled with a difficult draw with their finalist opposition, and a hard-fought victory against Croatia, is how they qualified from Group C.

France proved to be no problem whatsoever for Vicente Del Bosque’s maestros, but Portugal were able to throw a spanner in their works. After a relatively even 90 minutes which ended 0-0, Spain only began to dominate the game in extra time. They were still unable to find a goal and had to rely on penalties to see them through to the final.

Both Spain and Italy’s first game of Euro 2012 was against each other, which makes this final that bit more interesting. Almost everybody expected the Spanish to dispatch of the Italians with relative ease, but Antonio Di Natale was able to shock the world when he put his side 1-0 up in the second half.

Barcelona’s Cesc Fábregas was on hand to equalise soon after, but the scores stayed that way until the full-time whistle. During that game, Italy defended strongly, limiting Spain to precious few chances. This was hugely thanks to Roma midfielder Daniele De Rossi, who actually played in the middle of a three-man defence that day.

Key battles:

Sergio Ramos vs Mario Balotelli.

Ramos and Balotelli sure to be an interesting matchup

The Real Madrid defender has probably had the best season of his career this year. Under the tutelage of Jose Mourinho, the ex-Sevilla man has cut out of lot of the careless mistakes in his game. His transformation to centre-half from right-back also helped Real Madrid win the La Liga title after Barcelona dominating it for four years, as well as reaching the Champions League semi-final. He’s coming up with the goods this summer for his country too, playing the centre-half role as though he has his whole career.

Meanwhile, Mario Balotelli has been given all the faith in the world from Cesare Prandelli. For a lot of Euro 2012, the Man City striker hasn’t reached the standard he’s capable of. Most notably, in that first game vs Spain, he missed a one-on-one chance (due to Ramos’ tracking back and tackling) and was substituted for the goal-scorer Toto Di Natale. Against Germany however, he completely repaid Prandelli for the faith he’s shown in his, with two marvellous goals in the 2-1 win. Ramos vs Balotelli will be a great battle in the final.

Andrea Pirlo vs the Spain midfield.

In their opening Group C meeting, Spain played with a 6-man midfield with no strikers, with the intent of playing their way through Italy. It’s a system that Barcelona has implemented before, to some success too, and one that Spain can play fantastically in, with Silva and Cesc as the focal point in the ‘false nine’ attack. If Spain are to keep Italy’s chances to a minimum, they’ll need to stop Andrea Pirlo.

They can do this with Sergio Busquets, Barça’s ball-winning defensive midfielder, although the Juve midfielder is famous for his deep-lying playmaking skills, meaning he probably won’t be in Busquets territory for a lot of the game, and it may be up to Andrés Iniesta, David Silva, and Cesc Fábregas to stifle him.

Andrea Pirlo has been on top form this competition so far. He’s given plenty of problems for the defences of Germany, England, Croatia, Ireland and even Spain, to deal with. So far nobody has been able to stop him, and not even just at international level; Pirlo was one of the main reasons why Juventus went their league season unbeaten. The future legend of Italian football has more than enough intelligence and talent to unlock the Spanish defence, but it’ll be up to his teammates to take those chances and to defend what La Furia Roja create.

Vicente Del Bosque vs Cesare Prandelli

It’s probably a rare thing for the managers to feature on these kind of “Key Battles” lists, but the tacticians are more than deserving of their places here. Both are fantastic managers, the fact that they’ve guided their teams to the final alone shows that, but both have also deployed very interesting formations and tactics during Euro 2012 so far.

Both teams’ managers awkwardly embrace

In that first game between them, Spain played with no strikers and a six-man midfield, while Italy played with only three defenders with their 3-5-2 system. Last season in Serie A, a number of teams have tried a 3-5-2 system, some with success, some without. It’s a formation that is very hard to perfect because the defenders need to know their roles, which are different from a 4-man defence system, very well. In Italy’s last few games though, Prandelli has opted for a 4-3-1-2 formation, interestingly with Montolivo as the trequartista.

More than this, the Italian has been able to re-build his side from the turbulence that surrounds the Italian domestic game, and the morale-crushing 2010 World Cup campaign. He has brought his team to the final in the face of adversity, and now he’s got the chance to take on the best in the game – the side that has won the last European Championships and World Cup, and no team has ever won three major international tournaments in a row. No matter what happens, it’ll surely be monumental.


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