WC2014 Engerland 1 – 2 Italy

Oh that sickening feeling as it becomes sadly obvious that something has gone horribly wrong

Oh that sickening feeling as it becomes sadly obvious that something has gone horribly wrong

Can A Loss Ever Be Good News?

It’s weird. I can’t help feeling less enthused for Engerland’s chances I ever have.  Yet I don’t feel despondent. I don’t think anyone realistically expects them to win the damn thing, and precious few expect them to get out of the group. What we all want, irrespective of results is an improvement in performance and some idea of future development.  In this, amazingly, Engerland just about delivered.


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.

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.

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.

Euro 2012: Day 11

Play Badly And Win: Spain 1 – 0 Croatia

What should have been a great match was made dreary by tactics. Despite the Croats needing to score to have a chance of qualification (only a win or a high scoring draw would do) they really didn’t pose much of a threat for the first 70 minutes or so. Their plan seems to have been to tire the Spanish out by allowing them to have too much possession of the ball.

The Spanish, meanwhile, appear to have been playing well within themselves. Either that or they were giving a very good impression of a team that was unable to meet its own high standards, appeared somewhat exhausted and was unable to gel together properly. Indeed, there were moments when they were comprehensively outplayed by the Croats, when Modric sparkled down the right wing, then put in a beautiful cross off the outside of his boot only to see Rakitic head it straight at Casillas. That and a volley from outside the area were the Croats two significant chances. After that the game was effectively over.

Spain’s one moment of genuine class decided the game. A through ball from Fabregas saw Iniesta finally break the Croat defence and square the ball for the onrushing Jesus Navas to slam into the net from a couple of yards. The venom with which he struck the ball ensured that, but for the net, that ball would still be traveling two days later.

Play Badly And Lose: Ireland 0 – 2 Italy

Well top marks the Irish. At least they managed to hold it to nil-nil for more than five minutes. Indeed it wasn’t until the 36th minute that their chronically useless defence spreadeagled itself in front of the Italian onslaught. A corner headed in and once again the Irish had conceded from a set piece. And while an Irish goal might have sent the Italians home, it never looked like really happening. And when they conceded a late second, again from a corner, their misery was complete.

Bad beyond belief the Irish have even less to take home from this tournament than the Dutch (and that’s saying something). Null points, one goal and a goal difference of -8. Two goalkeeping howlers, three goals from set pieces and a brace for goal drought Fernando Torres. The Irish represent everything that is wrong with ‘macho’ football. Staffed by big men with plenty of ‘heart’ and nothing in their boots, they showed that there is no point to football without skill, tactics and guile. Rarely threatening, always in danger, Ireland were like the minnows of the Cup coming up against the big boys and finally understanding the possibilities the game they had been playing all their lives had to offer and realising that they would never, as individuals, begin to ascend the foothills of the talents they were playing against.

The idea that the Irish can qualify for this tournament while teams like the Belgians are left on the sidelines makes a mockery of the qualification process. The sooner they and the footballing philosophy they represent are banished the better.

Euro 2012: Day 7

Are We Nearly There Yet? Italy 1 – 1 Croatia

The weirdest thing about the second round matches is that while some of them mean the world, others mean almost nothing, especially when the result is a tired stagnatory draw like this one. Neither team really loses, both live to fight another day, although the Italians begin to worry about conspiracy theories and matchfixing – which adds a whole new level of delicious irony to the proceedings. Apparently, if the Croats and the Spanish were to draw 2 – 2, then any result the Italians got against the Irish (and it’s as safe a bet as any that the Italians will get a result against the Irish) will still result in the Italians flying home to deal with their latest league fixing, bribery and corruption scandal. Last time they had one they won the World Cup, this time their technocrat PM has suggested they suspend their league for three years while they sort out their endemic football corruption issues.

Anyway, this match appeared to matter little and impressed few. The Italians were as obdurate as always, the Croats simply reinforced the feeling that they aren’t quite as good as their teams of a decade and four years ago. Luca Modric on his own simply can’t compensate for the rest of the team. Yet simply for the humour value of it, you have to hope the Spanish and the Croats do actually get to a 2 – 2 draw and call it a day.

And That’s Your Ticket Home, See You At The Airport: Spain 4 – 0 Ireland

You have to sense that the Irish are glad it’s all over. To be honest, they’d probably be glad if matches finished after the first five minutes and they’d only lost them one – nil. Comfortably the worst side to have made it here, the Irish didn’t even go as far as making up the numbers. They simply imploded. If ever there was a lesson that the choices and tactics of the likes of MCarthy and his ilk have become utterly redundant, then this Irish side are it. There is, it appears, a world of difference between coming second in your group behind Russia, then winning a playoff against the mighty Estonia, and actually being able to compete with the big boys.

And of all the big boys, Spain are top dogs (although the next fortnight will determine if they stay there). And the Irish simply had no answer to them. Admittedly they lasted a whole minute more than they did against Croatia, but it was all over after 5 minutes as another defensive catastrophe saw Torres score his first competitive international goal in 2 years. After that it was Spain’s new version of tiki-taka for the rest of the match.

While Roy Keane will apparently always have an axe to grind with regard to his country’s team, you have to agree with his comment that the side need to get out of the ‘just here for the craic and a sing-song’ mentality. However, Ireland have been so comfortably bad that it’s hard to think of any positives they could take away. Like Engerland at World Cup 2010, they may live to regret having signed up their manager for another two years just before the tournament.