Spain went in to this sporting their unorthodox 4-6-0 formation fielding a team without a recognized centre-forward. The ‘eyebrow raising’ formation had been introduced by Spain in this tournament and had been working to their success until now. The Italians on the other hand only made one change to their team that beat Germany 2-1 in the quarter-final which saw the rather unfortunate Balzaretti, who had a world beating performance lose his place to Abate.
In the opening frames of the game both teams were working extremely hard to obtain command. Inevitably it was the Spanish, who once got their typical passing game going were always going to be hard to hinder. However, to Italy’s credit they were no push-overs and did not allow themselves to become besieged by Spain. They got frequent, although brief spells of possession and they looked to gain an advantage by pushing full-back Chielini high up the by-line and to get some deliveries in to Balotelli who displayed his areal potential against the Germans.
Graham Hunter wrote a book about them recently – Barça: The Making of The Greatest Team In The World. The Greatest Team In The World. Imagine that. Well that very team may well have been knocked out of the race for the La Liga title and the Champions League, all in the space of four days. All that’s left of their memory now is to wonder; how the hell did that happen?
At one point not long ago, Real Madrid boasted an unbelievable ten point lead over Barcelona in the league table. Pep Guardiola described his chances of winning yet another title as “impossible”. Once Real came up against Málaga, who have found their feet in recent months, and a resurgent Villarreal who’ve been disappointing all season, in quick succession, all of a sudden four points were dropped. A couple of 5-1 wins later, and best-of-the-rest Valencia came to town.
In recent history, Real Madrid have had no problem getting past the challenges of Valencia. This season however, in probably the most exciting 0-0 draw of the season, Valencia left the capital with a point. A further two points dropped, with the gap down to four, while José Mourinho and Madrid were still to visit Nou Camp. Add to that the fact that Madrid hadn’t beaten Barça in the league since 2008, and in a grand total of 14 games (in 90 minutes; not counting the 2011 Copa Del Rey Final AET.) Pep’s thoughts then? “Not as impossible.”