A Kiss for (no) Miss
Who would have thought?
The Euro Cup 2012 Final will be played between the teams that played the first group game in Group C. It was a group that was supposed to throw up ONE finalist, with the Group Of Death destined to throw up another.
But Italians rarely let destiny do its thing. The Italian team, once again ravaged by suspicions and charges of match-fixing before a major tournament, was in grave danger of falling apart. But Prandelli, their coach, has succeeded in creating a team with a large, throbbing heart- a heart that has taken them all the way. They haven’t been the best team, they haven’t been the most impressive team either- but that’s the thing about the Italians, the masters of going unnoticed. They have done just enough to scare their opponents, most notably the high-flying chokers Germany in the semis. Now, they are one match away from making a mockery out of destiny, from sealing a win that is the stuff underdog films are made of.
Spain, on the other hand, were favorites all along. After their 1-1 draw with Italy in their first game, they have swatted away most teams, except the inspired Portugal team in the semi-final: a kind of wake-up call needed by every Champion during their defense. Criticized for their ‘boring’, yet highly skillful possession-and-pass style of football, Spain haven’t let the whispers get to them- instead concentrating on cementing their places as THE most dominant national team in football history. They are one match away, from their destiny, from their third consecutive throne, from immortality.
The Olympic Stadium at Kiev will see a showdown between two of Europe’s most efficient footballing nations. Two styles. Two worlds. All Stars v/s Team Euro. The stage is set- the ruling World Champions take on the 2006 World Champions, in a battle of seismic proportions.
Twice the Fab?
With their maestro midfielder duo Xavi and Iniesta finally showing glimpse of why they are rightfully called captains of the most soulful midfield in football history, Spain do not have many players out of form. They have done their thing, all of them, one by one- and were taken to their very limits in a brutally physical Semi-final against Ronaldo’s Portugal. Portugal fought fire with fire, and demonstrated that it is absolutely possible to cut off Spain’s supply if blessed with stamina and determination- Pepe and his troops at the back never let the ball into the box for the longest of times. All that Spanish possession was reduced to nothing: 0-0 at the end of the game. In Extra Time, it was Iniesta and Jordi Alba who tried to provide one last burst of inspiration against a visibly exhausted Portugal side. But Iniesta missed a sitter, and the game was reduced to a lottery shootout. Portugal must have believed in their chances, but their decision to let Ronaldo take the last penalty reeked of unnecessary optimism- considering most teams don’t get past the fourth penalty. Spain came out unscathed, once again, and were in yet another final.
They will also be the first to admit that they should have found a way past the defense in the semis, and should have had an easier game. But they are now steeled for what might be their biggest test, a defensive masterclass that they might struggle to crack. Their games against Croatia and France will give them a bit of confidence, and they will need their trio of Silva, Fabregas and Iniesta upfront to come good. Silva, who has had just one good game out of five (against Ireland), will be hoping that he finally adds to his tally of 1 goal.
Spain will start as eternal favorites, but they will know better than the tragic Germans.
Will the real Balo please stand up?
With Balotelli, the enigmatic young master, peeking and looking like the most lethal striker of this tournament, it will be down to playmaker Pirlo and his ability to find his temperamental forward. It will also depend on which Balotelli shows up, but so far, he has proved to be the turbo boost that a highly-defensive Italian squad needed. Even Cassano has made himself a provider for the youngster, and the Italian defense has been as solid as ever- with the explosive Cheillini back in the side. They have done enough when it has mattered, against England and Germany, conceding only one penalty, and no field goals. Also, with Italy, there will always be one penalty shootout, and an escape from disaster. Against England, they managed that inspite of dominating the entire game- and took the momentum into the semis against a shell-shocked German team. In probably the most one-sided game of the tournament between big guns, Germany were finished in the first half itself. All Italy had to do for 45 minutes is defend, and break away- and they are masters at that.
Finally, it was the better team on the day that came through. The young Germans once again fell in the final four, and will be wondering if all those brilliant wins against Portugal, Netherlands, England and Argentina (last World Cup) matter at all. In the end, they must feel like their ex-captain Ballack, the almost-man.
Italy will start as underdogs, and it is a status they revel in.
Be Kind Rewind
It would be foolish trying to predict the outcome of a final, in which both teams have a near-flawless record. What can be predicted is if the game will finish in 90 minutes. It will. And if it does, Spain stand more of a chance.
Or will we see the return back to the old guard?