Entertaining Draw Leaves World Champions Upset over Pitch
Italy 1 Spain 1
A Di Natale (1-0); Cesc Fabregas (1-1)
This was a match between the top teams of group C and one that should be shown as how entertaining football can be played (as against the cagey attritional affair that other big teams in Euro 2012 has displayed.) even in a big match. Tactically Spain manager Vincent del Bosque pulled a rabbit out by playing a striker-less formation of 4-6-0 which probably was as much a statement about Fernando Torres’ recent form and the faith the manager has in Fernando Llorente. Italy started in a revamped 3-5-2 after playing a 4-3-1-2 for most of Cesare Prandelli’s campaign. As expected Daniele de Rossi started in the centre of the defense but it was presence of Emanuele Giaccherini as the left wing back that proved surprising given that the Juventus man was also making his debut. Spain had defeated Italy in tiebreaker in the 2008 Euro to start their march to world and European domination. And two players who were integral to the denouement of the 2008 quarter-final proved decisive today. Antonio Di Natale was the Italian who had missed the last penalty and Cesc Fabregas had then converted the Spanish penalty in the 2008 tiebreaker to seal Spain’s win. Both were on target within 3 minutes of each other in today’s match getting a deserved draw for their team. Spain though later complained about the field with del Bosque saying “The pitch was not watered properly and this is not a good thing for football or the spectacle of the sport.”
The match started on a pacy note with both sides trading chances though Italy created clearer ones. David Silva had ran into the Italy box twice within the first 10 minutes but couldn’t test Gianluigi Buffon overly. Italy hit back with a Pirlo freekick which swerved and dropped to gain pace and was kept out unconvincingly by Iker Casillas. As the half progressed, Italy slowly but surely took charge. Antonio Cassano was a constant threat, switching flanks and providing inviting balls to his teammates. His strike partner Mario Balotelli though showed his troubled self getting into fouls and one time taking his vent on the ground after missing control of the ball. Cassano got clear on a Claudio Marchisio through ball and his angled drive missed the far post. Andres Iniesta had a couple of efforts but de Rossi was having a standout match charging down the efforts. Cassano had another attempt and this time Casillas could only parry it sidewise but Balotelli couldn’t reach it. Marchisio then had a brilliant volley from a Cassano cutback and Casillas had to bring out all his athleticism to stop it. Just before the end of the half, Thiago Motta had a free header from another Cassano ball and should have put the Azzurri ahead but saw it saved acrobatically by Casillas.
The strangely ineffective Spanish frontline without a focal point cried out for a striker but del Bosque didn’t change anyone. Spain started stronger and had Buffon save a couple of stinging Iniesta shots and then Mario Balotelli got the easiest chance, till that time, of the match. He had done the spadework by making Sergio Ramos miss a clearance and Mario was running at Casillas’ goal with no one ahead. But he strangely slowed down, neither shooting nor passing to Cassano who was clear on the far post and Ramos came back to dispossess him. Prandelli, who later said “I don’t know what happened to Mario when he was alone in front of Iker Casillas. He probably had two options and in these cases a striker should only have one. He should’ve passed it to Antonio Cassano”, had seen enough and substituted him for Antonio di Natale. Within 5 minutes of coming on, Toto had scored from a peach of a Pirlo through ball. It was redemption song for the striker who has been scoring close to 30 goals in each of his last 3 league seasons. The goal spurred Spain into motion and within 3 minutes, a bit of slick passing between Iniesta and David Silva resulted in the latter passing it unseen to Cesc who had timed his run perfectly and slotted the ball home. Spain brought on Jesus Navas and soon Fernando Torres while Italy got Sebastian Giovinco for tiring Cassano. Torres immediately got a gilt edged opportunity running behind the defense but Buffon was smart enough to flick the ball off him without going to ground. Minutes later, Torres had an even easier chance lobbing an onrushing Buffon but his shot went over the bar comfortably. In the dying moments, Marchisio ran half the pitch with the ball but his shot was straight at Casillas.
Italy was widely expected to turn over and be swept away in a maze of Spanish tiki-taka. But Casillas had to make as many saves in this match as he was required to do in the entire European qualifying campaign. Italy who had lost their last three friendlies without scoring once, had taken the lead against the world and European champions. All thus points to a creditable performance from the Azzurri. However the tactical choices of del Bosque were also influential. Firstly he should have started a striker as the chances that Torres got in the last 15 minutes showed. Secondly he should have brought on the better striker when he did put one. Torres has lost his confidence totally and Llorente would have been a better choice. The Spanish moaning about the ground and pointing that as a reason for their performance was a poor excuse. The draw was a justified result. With Croatia and Ireland to come, both Italy and Spain can hope of progressing from this group on the back of this performance.
Spain: Iker Casillas,Sergio Ramos,Álvaro Arbeloa,Gerard Piqué,Jordi Alba,Xabi Alonso,Andrés Iniesta,Sergio Busquets,David Silva (Jesús Navas, 65),Xavi,Francesc Fábregas (Fernando Torres, 74)
Italy: Gianluigi Buffon,Christian Maggio,Leonardo Bonucci,Giorgio Chiellini,Daniele De Rossi, Claudio Marchisio,Emanuele Giaccherini,Andrea Pirlo,Thiago Motta (Antonio Nocerino, 90), Antonio Cassano (Sebastian Giovinco, 65),Mario Balotelli (Antonio Di Natale, 57)
Referee: Viktor Kassai (Hungary)
Venue: PGE Arena
“The field was not in good condition and this damaged us. The problem is it was not watered sufficiently, so this is why we were unable to pass the ball around in a fluid manner”
Xavi Hernandez complains about the state of the turf in Gdansk
“I still remember the penalty I missed against Spain, so that was particularly a great moment for me. Spain have wonderful champions, as do we, so it was a fascinating game.”
Antonio di Natale, who missed the decisive penalty in 2008 quarterfinals says this is his redemption song.