Splendid Spain Smash Spirited Azzurri
They came with a purpose and they achieved it. Nearly 75 years after an Argentina team consisting mostly of the great River Plate forwards Juan Carlos Muñoz, José Manuel Moreno, Adolfo Pedernera, Ángel Labruna, and Félix Loustau had won three successive Copa America (then called the South American Championships) in 1945, 1946 and 1947, has a team come up to win three successive major tournaments. Spain’s achievement is all the more creditable given how the competition has become widespread and when you consider that Spain has yet to concede a goal in any of those three triumphs in the knockout rounds, you can estimate the mesmerizing superiority they have imposed over their opponents.
Spain 4 Italy 0
D Silva (1-0), J Alba (2-0), F Torres (3-0), J Mata (4-0)
Derided as ‘boring’ and ‘playing defensive’, Spain came out of the blocks strong and belligerent to the point that Italy, despite throwing the best they had, couldn’t cope with the pace or the skill shown by the Spanish players. Vincent del Bosque had once again opted for a strikerless formation while Cesare Prandelli had opted to NOT counter it by his 3-5-2 of the group stage. Perhaps he would one day admit that mistake. Within the first ten minutes, the movement of David Silva, Cesc Fabregas and Alvaro Arbeloa had shown how fragile Giorgio Chiellini is at left back. Spain scored within 15 minutes with a run through Italy’s left side and a Fabregas cutback was headed in by Silva. The pace and the precision of the attack had taken the Italian defence completely by surprise and made sure Italy would go behind in a match for the first time in the tournament. Prandelli admitted Chiellini’s ineptitude in the face of that onslaught to substitute him with Federico Balzaretti within the opening half hour.
That goal though spurred Italy on and gradually the likes of Pirlo, Montolivo and Cassano started showing their impact. Ignazio Abate and Balzaretti were running full pelt at the defense down the right and Italy created positive chances. It was Casillas who was the busier keeper in this point saving from Montolivo, Cassano and Balotelli at crucial junctures. Spain though always remained a threat on the break. And the efficacy of the strikerless formation was proved, when leftback Jordi Alba became the furthest man in one such counterattack, and finished it with aplomb. To their credit, Italy kept attacking and but for an alert Casillas, should have got a goal back before the half time.
With two goals down, Prandelli made an attacking change, bringing on ‘Toto’ Di Natale for Cassano. Within five minutes of restart, that substitution seemed to have almost paid off as Di Natale wasted a golden opportunity, heading just over the bar. Ten minutes later, Montolivo threaded through a ball for Di Natale to just place it beyond Casillas, but the Udinese striker hit straight at him and couldn’t do anything with the rebound. At this point, Prandelli threw on Thiago Motta as the third substitute for Montolivo, apparently in a move to liberate Pirlo from the deep lying position and make him a more integral part of the attack. Italy had completed its three substitutions at the hour mark, when Motta pulled up with a hamstring injury, there was nothing more to be done. A heroic Italy was reduced to 10 men at the hour, with Spain at their best and ahead by two goals.
The result seemed academic after that. Only point was would Spain try and increase the humiliation on the Azzurri, which they duly did by bringing on Juan Mata, Fernando Torres and Pedro in the final 10 minutes. A visibly tired 10 Azzurri, were blown away in a spurt of orgiastic passing as Torres scored and assisted for Mata and Spain completed a 4-0 rout.
Spain can rightly claim to be the best team in the world, and perhaps one of the best teams of all time. Comparisons across era are always a nice dinner table conversation but this Spanish side, has as much defensive solidity as it has attacking flair. When it mattered the most, they brought out their ‘A’ game to demolish their opponents. A third successive crown, and now they can make it an unassailable four if they get the 2014 world cup. With this Spain, you know nothing is impossible.
The Azzurri, were not disgraced despite that scoreline. For 60 minutes, they fought toe to toe. They ran Spain close for one hour, till the tragic circumstance in which they were reduced to 10 men. The final half hour, the entire team was running with barely anything in the tank. It was 30 minutes too long for this team that had overcome momentous odds to come to the finals. Their prize is not just the runner-up medal, but the acknowledgement from most neutral football lovers, that this Italy is a new Italy. The time ahead could be the most exciting for Azzurri.
“They were too superior and so the regrets about losing are possibly less hard, as when you face a powerful and invulnerable force like this, you can accept the defeat easier.”
“Before I start to analyse anything I’d like to say that everyone loses sometimes. Italy had a great tournament but had that injury with Thiago Motta and the game effectively ended then.”
Vincent Del Bosque