As the Ukraine prepares to play host to the Euro 2012 Final in just three days, here’s an in depth look at one of the combatants – Spain – how they got there and how they can beat Italy.
Spain were pitted in UEFA Euro 2012 qualifying Group I alongside the Czech Republic, Scotland, Lithuania and Liechtenstein.
In their opening group game, a Fernando Torres double helped Spain hammer Liechtenstein 4-0. Next, they beat Lithuania 3-1, before edging out a gutsy Scotland 3-2. A 73rd minute penalty was just enough to see off the Czech Republic 2-1 as they ended the first round of group fixtures undefeated.
Their second meeting with Lithuania was a repeat scoreline of the first, with Xavi, a Kijanskas own goal, and a Mata strike enough to claim victory again. Unfortunately for Liechtenstein, their luck wasn’t about to change either, as they were walloped 6-0.
Spain would then beat the Czech Republic and Scotland again 2-0 and 3-1 respectively to finish as undefeated Group I winners with 24 points and 26 goals scored.
Spain were drawn in Group C, and faced much more testing encounters than they had in qualifying. In their group were Croatia, Italy and the Republic of Ireland.
They were held 1-1 in their opening group game against Italy, and went a goal down before Fabregas rescued a point. Next though they showed a glimpse of the ruthlessness that saw them go unbeaten in qualifying by thrashing the Republic of Ireland 4-0.
In their final group game, they edged out Croatia 1-0 to reach the quarter finals.
As winners of group C, Spain took on the runners up in group D – France.
Xabi Alonso put them 1-0 up early on, but Spain never really had to hit their stride to see off a lacklustre France. Alonso scored again with a last minute penalty to add more gloss to proceedings, but up until this point, other than against the Republic of Ireland, Spain had very rarely looked like the unbeatable team that they were in qualifying.
Suggestions that Spain were beginning to run out of steam were compounded when they were held to a goalless 90 minutes, and then another goalless half hour of extra time by Portugal. Though Spain prevailed on penalties, that might not have been the case had it not been for a penalty mix-up by Bruno Alves.
Having missed their opening penalty, Spain looked like they faced an up hill battle to reach their third majour final in a row, but luckily for them, for some inexplicable reason, star man Cristiano Ronaldo didn’t get to take a penalty, as they won the shootout 4-2.
Spain must rediscover their ruthless form if they are to become the first team in history to win three successive competitions (Euro 2008, 2010 World Cup). However, the last time they played Italy they were held to a 1-1 draw in their opening group game. The time before that, in August 2011, Italy won 2-1 in a friendly with goals from Riccardo Montolivo and Alberto Aquilani.
Spain have a record of W8 D12 L10 versus Italy, and seven of those victories have come in friendly matches.
One of the reasons to explain Spain’s apparent lack of a killer instinct is manager Vincente del Bosque’s negative tactics.
In their semi-final victory over Portugal, there was only one attempt on target during the 120 minutes.
Spain’s possession-oriented, tiki-taka style football has been heralded for years, yet despite Spain’s 57 percent possession, seven corners and a pass completion of 75 percent out of the 758 passes made against Portugal, they still failed to finish the game off.
Spain didn’t field a registered striker in the quarter final against France, and despite Álvaro Negredo starting against Portugal in the semi-final, he was hauled off for midfielder Fabregas 10 minutes after half time.
If Spain are going to win Euro 2012, then they are going to have to rediscover their red hot form in qualifying for the competition. To do that, they need their strikers on the pitch – as simplistic as that might sound, it is a method that is apparently alien to del Bosque, who prefers to pack the midfield at the expense of a danger man up front.
Though these so called “negative tactics” have obviously worked for Spain thus far, they may not get away with it again. They have scored fewer goals than Germany, who were eliminated last night.
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