Moment of Truth for Spain and Italy
Group C: Spain vs Italy
Friday, 10 June 2012
1800 (local time); 1200(EST); 2130(IST)
PGE Arena Gdansk
The second group of death kicks off with a match that is as poignant for the teams as it is for the European championships. The last two world cup winners go head to head in the opening match of Group C and expect a bruising affair.
The current world and European winners are overwhelming favourites, not having lost to any European nation in any competitive match since the 2006 world cup. But their start to world and European domination actually started against the same opposition in a quarter final in 2008 Euros. That match ended in tiebreaker and a win, especially in a tiebreaker put the Spanish team on its path of world domination. Trophies have come in and the play has been highly appreciated too. With a 100% record in the qualifying for the Euros, Spain are favourites for the tournament along with Germany. However not all is well with the team. Injury has robbed the team of Carlos Puyol and David Villa. The tensions among the players from the two big clubs have come out in the open. Xavi has come out to say “We’ve always been respectful, but they haven’t been so gracious. It’s a personal feeling.” In older days Puyol was one of the players to cement those relations. And now with his absence, not only does Vicente del Bosque have to to do that peace-keeping corps work himself, he also has to forge a central defensive partnership of Real’s Sergio Ramos and Barcelona’s Gerard Pique. The rest of the team are easily chosen though if Fernando Torres starts as the forward, it would be more to do with his name than actual form. Fernando Llorente would have been a more worthy starter.
If anything that could have gone wrong in the preparation of a tournament, then that has gone wrong for Italy. Desperate to forge a new team out of the disaster of 2010 World Cup, manager Cesare Prandelli couldn’t really have bargained for the sort of luck with injury, form, discipline and scandal all hitting at the same time. With another betting scandal rampaging the peninsula and this time players too part of it, the team has been thrust right back to 2006 world cup mode – back against the wall with only themselves for company. If such a situation can foster trust and belief in each other, like Lippi’s 2006 world cup squad did, is the question. Andrea Pirlo is fit and should take the field and the onus is on him to show to the world, why he and not Xavi, is the best in that deep-lying playmaker role.
Spain has been its rampant self winning all its matches in the qualifying scoring 26 goals in 8 matches. They have not lost in 2012 and would expect to keep their form running.
Italy has not won in 2012 yet but they did beat Spain in a friendly when they last met them last year. Italy too qualified in style conceding only 2 goals (record lowest) throughout. They were absolutely thrashed though in the last friendly against Russia and Prandelli would have had a nice view of his defensive ails. One hopes that he has managed to iron them out in time for the opener.
Teams & Formations
Spain would play in the familiar 4-3-3 that Barcelona play though the effectiveness of Torres as the central forward may be questioned and Llorente, who had a great season with Athletic Bilbao is a credible alternative.
Spain (4-3-3): Iker Casillas; Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Piqué, Jordi Alba; Xavi Hernandez, Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso; David Silva, Fernando Torres, Andrés Iniesta
Manager: Vicente del Bosque
There has been quite a lot of discussion of whether to play a 4 man or a 3 man defense and the absence of Andrea Barzagli due to injury, robs Prandelli of putting in a defense which served the Serie A champions Juventus so very well. Daniele de Rossi, who did try out as a ball-playing central defender for Roma might be the replacement. However Italy will bank a lot on Spain not playing to their full potential in the very first match and wish Andrea Pirlo can pull the strings just like he did for Juventus all season. The forward line is a lottery too. Antonio Cassano’s fitness is questionable having only come back late in the season from his heart ailment. Mario Balotelli is equally probable to do the daftest thing in the field as he is to score a goal.
Italy(3-5-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Leonardo Bonucci, Daniele De Rossi, Giorgio Chiellini; Christian Maggio, Claudio Marchisio, Andrea Pirlo, Thiago Motta, Emanuelle Giacherini; Antonio Cassano, Mario Balotelli
Manager: Cesare Prandelli
Referee: Viktor Kassai (Hungary)
“I have decided on my team but the players will not be informed until the morning of the game.”
Vincent Del Bosque keeps his team a secret.
“We have tried many options but this is something we often do. If De Rossi has to play in that position(defence) it won’t be only as a defender but also as a defensive midfielder.”
Cesare Prandelli on possible tactical makeup.