Euro 2012: Day 19 The Final


Saved The Best For Last: Spain 4 – 0 Italy

Now most finals are a catastrophic disappointment. They’re usually devoid of real excitement or genuine skill and usually feature a bunch of players too overawed for the occasion to actually rise to it. Fortunately this wasn’t one of those occasions. Both Spain and Italy bought their A-game and went at each other from the start.

The first half was simply a delight. Far from being over-complicated and indecisive about their game, Spain’s passing was clinical, incisive and determined. Each pass appeared to be part of a larger attempt to move Italy about the pitch before cynically decapitating them with the odd goal. The first saw them move the ball all over the Italians’ half before Fabregas cut in, went to the byline and crossed for Silva to head in. The second saw Xavi and Jordi Alba combine to set Alba through to beat the keeper. Spain were so dominant that Italy had barely had a chance, yet they never looked like they were outclassed, just overwhelmed.

Italy had no answer. With Spain having in effect a 6 man midfield, Pirlo wasn’t given the freedom to get into the game and so Italy weren’t able to adapt. Ballotelli was isolated and unable to contribute, and despite their changes there was no change in the state of play. Indeed they soon went a player down as their final sub succumbed to a hamstring injury.

Spain’s substitutes, by contrast, worked fine. Torres came on, score a goal, set up another for substitute Mata, and won the golden boot in the process. Not bad for 15 minutes work for a striker who is, apparently, washed up, devoid of confidence and way past his best. Add these to the Champions League winner’s medal he received for just over half an hour on the pitch and it’s not been that bad a season for Fernando. Spain were four up and it could have been 20. Italy were as outdone as Engerland had been a week beforehand, only Spain were able to finish somewhat more effectively.

This was the final the tournament, which started so well, deserved. A truly great match to crown this Spanish side one of the all time greats. It’s probably no consolation to the Italians, but they’ve managed to lose the two classic international finals (this and Mexico 70), conceding 4 goals in each and given us some real entertainment.

Their next match, a friendly against the hapless Engerland, will be very, very interesting.

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Euro 2012: Day 18


Caught By The Catenaccio: Germany 1 – 2 Italy

If the first semi final was dull, then this was like a Jerry Lewis movie. You see the joke coming a mile off, you get a reaction shot, you pan back to the joke (now merely a hundred yards out), repeat reaction shot, pan back (50 feet) and there it suddenly is right in front of you. The joke. Cue drum roll and curtains.

Now Germany had had the chance to watch the Amazing Pirlo Show, not once (against Engerland), not even twice (against Ireland), but right the way through the tournament. They’d even seen the way Croatia managed to put the brakes on him. And still they let the funny man with the frying pan beat them about the head with abandon.

If the first semi final saw the varying philosophies of Spain and Portugal cancel each other out to result in stalemate, this saw the exemplary defensive play and midfield distribution of the Italians overwhelm the midfield mastery and attacking power of the Germans. And in a way the Germans were beaten at their own game as the Italians first sucked them in, then punished them on the break, rather as the Germans had done for Engerland at World Cup 2010. Only where Germany were helped by some tragicomic defending from Terry and the boys, they were outdone by two fabulous strikes from Ballotelli, who atoned for his inexplicable miss against the Spanish in their group game.

Once Germany allowed Pirlo to begin pulling the strings there was no way back and although they laid siege to the Italian goal in the final minutes and scored a nice consolation penalty, they never really looked as if they had got any degree of control over the match. What with Bayern’s defeat to Chelsea and now this, maybe the Germans are developing an air of defeat about them.

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Euro 2012: Day 17


Stalemate: Spain 0 – 0 Portugal

You hope for a riot and you get a small disturbance by the corner shop. This should have been a feisty, combative battle between the team of the tournament and the man of the moment (Pirlo excluded). Instead it was possibly the dullest of all the matches in the tournament so far as the two philosophies of Portugal and Spain cancelled each other out.

This was everything that football shouldn’t be. The focus on the individual rather than the team, the focus on the individual rather than the football. This should have been the moment for Ronaldo to seize control, to finally show that he can be the decisive factor in the really really big games in the same way that Pirlo was against Engerland. Instead this was Ronnie at his least effective. Indeed, it was Nani (ever the understudy) who appeared more effective, although given the torpor the game induced that isn’t saying much.

Spain themselves seemed surprisingly outclassed for the first half, only really rousing themselves for extra time and even then they weren’t roused enough to really make a difference.

Still, like Engerland, penalties were funny, funny, funny. The best joke being that Ronaldo, who obviously sees himself as the saviour of football, didn’t even get to take his penalty.  From glory boy to glory hole in one fell swoop.

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Euro 2012: Day 16


Same Old, Same Old – Exit At The Gift Shoppe: Italy 0 – 0 Engerland

Italian football genius Andrea Pirlo puts a useless Engerland team in their place with the most audacious penalty the Euros have seen.

Now loads of people have come down on poor little Engerland. They are, it is said, dour miserablists without a jot of footballing intelligence (that nice Theo and Oxblood aside), they play appalling lumpen prole hoofball, they are most effective when corralled into their patent ‘Roman Tortoise’ formation, they have an almost superstitious belief that Rooney will one day turn out a half-decent performance for the team and that’s just their good points. So naturally it’s all the fault of the ball to feet playing Spaniards.

Arguably the most evenly balanced of the quarter finals, on paper this looked like it could go either way. Italy hadn’t been playing all that well, doing just enough to come through in a group which also featured the flailing Croatians and the utterly abysmal Irish. They looked a bit staid and vulnerable, not unlike their opponents. If there was a quarter final that Engerland could realistically win, this was it. In the end it was as brutal a nil – nil thrashing as you could possibly imagine.

Engerland opened up in typical Engerlish fashion, an awful lot of running about and hoofy looping to varying degrees of success, a half-decent attempt on goal which provided Buffon with his only serious save of the day. However, after 20 minutes or so of pretty footy, Engerland simply opened up. The terrifying thing was that you could see it happening like ripples in a pond as the Italians first regained control, then established utter dominance over the game. In contrast you could watch the Engerlish backline retreating like Rooney’s receding hairline, first it’s on the halfway line, then halfway in the Engerlish half, then their 18 yard line, then inside the penalty area. Each retreat marked by a further retreat in the quality of any response on those rare occasions when Engerland actually had the ball.

The most astonishing thing about the game, aside from the mystery of how Italy failed to score in 120 minutes with almost total possession of the ball and about a grazillion on target chances, was how Andrea Pirlo managed to dominate all the play. Now here’s an older, slower player of undoubted talent, whose threat could have been neutralised by stationing an Engerlish player within, say, 20 yards. Prevent the ball getting to Pirlo and you’ve cut out about 90% of the Italian threat, reducing them to 30 yard hoofballs to a rampaging but ineffective Ballotelli. Not a hard concept for the best tactical brains in Engerlish football to get their heads around. And many different ways of accomplishing that, including man marking him with one of Gerrard, Parker or Rooney. Alternatively, bring on the Ox to make Pirlo’s life difficult. Not rocket science. However, not the Engerlish way apparently.

Instead the best minds in Engerlish football decided to isolate Pirlo by providing him with a 20 yard exclusion zone. A move which gave him almost total freedom to dictate play for the best part of 100 minutes. Unlike Gerrard, whose hail mary hoofers are just as likely to fall to an opponent’s able touch as they are to ricochet off an Engerlish player (into the able touch of an opponent), Pirlo can actually do the long ball pass thing. And he spread the play, usually down the right wing (patrolled with all his usually ineffectiveness by Ashley Young), with the ease of an old geezer lazing back in his recliner and puffing a catastrophically large cigar.

That Italy didn’t win in normal time was outrageous. That they didn’t win after 120 minutes was unacceptable and surely requires an indepth review by UEFA, followed by significant rule changes to prevent this thing from happening again. The notion that, but for the regulation couple of useless penalties which they always seem to dredge up, Engerland might have got to a semi final is repugnant to all sport loving Engerlishmen. Fortunately for them, and the world, we had Pirlo to take the most audacious penalty in the Euros to put the Engerlish most firmly in their place. The full scale recriminations will come later.

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Euro 2012: Day 15


Football Is Chess Played By Stupid People: Spain 2 – 0 France

Now loads of people have come down on Spain. They are apparently too lovely for their own good, they play beautiful, if often unthreatening football, they have won too often, they don’t allow other teams to beat them, they are boring and they win everything. Oh and they don’t give crappier teams a chance and they don’t let others score goals against them. So naturally it’s all the Spaniards’ fault.

Really the onus is on all the other sides to find a way around the Spanish gameplan. Not for the Spaniards to dumb down their play to accommodate the failings of the rest of the world. And given it’s taken Mourinho, who has the strongest alternative footballing philosophy, the best part of three seasons (and umpteen Classicos) in Spain to even challenge the might of Barcelona, it’s no surprise that the rest of the world has taken a while to get to grips with Spain’s success.

Latest to try was former world great France. Their previous period of dominance has culminated in just over a decade of catastrophic failure, infighting and acrimony. This campaign has been conducted with an undercurrent of bitterness, rancour and loathing that has been scarcely believeable, with players like Ben Arfa, Ribery, Malouda, Benzema and particularly Nasri being accused of not pulling their weight. With team solidarity like that it was no surprise that France bottled it, preferring to play a bizarre containment game before going one down, then failing to put together a meaningful attack for the rest of the game.

From Spain’s perspective their plan worked perfectly. They wore France down, pulling them all over the pitch, destroying their will, before breaking down the left, beating the two right backs Blanc had inexplicably deployed, before Xabi Alonso headed the ball into a practically unguarded net. Despite the introduction of Nasri, who barely even touched the ball, France had no response.

This might not have been a harem-scarem match like yesterday’s Germany Greece match, but from the Spanish perspective this was a perfect plan immaculately executed. The question for the rest of the world remains, Whatchagonna do about it?

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Euro 2012 Day 14


Med Nation In Euro Bailout: Germany 4 – 2 Greece

After the rather predictable tedium of Portugal v Czech Republic, this was the first real knockout match. Indeed, it was the first real grudge match of the tournament (we can comfortably ignore Germany Holland, France Engerland and Italy Practically Anyone). Greece, angered by Germany’s apparent success in everything and their own corrupt ineffectiveness, were on a mission.

Their first aim, to stultify the Germans with a Thermopylae defence, a massed rank of heftily bearded Greeks lined up, arms linked just in front of their goal, was initially successful. The Germans tried to push, pull, romance and roughhouse the ball into the net with consummate failure until captain Lahm simply decided to muller it into the net from 25 yards.

After that the Greeks changed tack. They broke fast and clawed back a goal. Possibly the most bizarre thing about this Greek side has been their reticence to actually attack, especially if you consider how effective they have been when they did. You think back to some of their attacks against Poland, which contained great movement and guile, and this excellent counterattack and then wonder why they should go two down in 6 minutes against the Czechs.

And once they were level, what did the Greeks do? Why fall back into their defensive shell, that’s what. Not a great move when you’re facing the Germans. Cue a couple of really nicely struck goals and it was game over. Not even the softest of soft penalties would prove consolation for the Greeks. For them austerity beckons.

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