The scene is set. The world’s #1 team, Spain, will be facing Europe’s most storied team in international competitions, Italy (4-time World Cup Champion). Both teams faced some very strong competition in the previous stage. Spain had to beat fellow Iberians, Portugal, who had the old continent’s best player today in Cristiano Ronaldo, for their spot. On the other hand, Italy convincingly defeated the team that most sports analysts (and I) had nominated as the eventual winners of the tournament, Germany.
Both of these teams have a base of players from the best teams in their respective leagues. Spain’s La Liga is often referred to as a league of two teams, and the national team reflects that with a great majority of the starting lineup looking like a mash-up of Real Madrid and Barcelona’s starters. Italy’s squad is also staying true to its past and has a team based on the stellar Juventus.
These two teams came out of the same group (where they tied 1-1) but they lead a different path for this tournament. Spain went into the European Championships as the current holders of the crown and with being the best team playing the sport right now. Italy suffered yet another match-fixing scandal and have played all tournament trying to drive attention towards what really matters: winning the tournament.
Historically, the upper hand goes to neither one of the teams. In the last 7 matches against Italy over the past 18 years, Spain has lost just once. In fact, a win against Italy in the quarter-finals of this same European Championships in penalties served as the catalyst for Spain’s evolution into a world power of the sport as it showed that it can finally advance to the later stages of a major tournament. Yet, Italy has never lost in an official competition against Spain dating back to World Cup 1934 (drawn matches that lead to penalties are still officially recorded as draws). This game appears to be completely up for grabs.
In tournament play, you’re only as good as your last game. After dominating every team after tying with Italy, Spain’s tiki taka was not enough against Portugal in regular or extra time. Cristiano Ronaldo’s team showed the world that you can stop the Spaniards if you actually attempt to win the game rather than surviving it, and they almost got away with it if it weren’t for some poor penalty shots. In the other semi-final match, Italy dominated the team that had been the most dominating team of the tournament, Germany. Italy was true to form and effectively neutralized the German front line with another great display from the defense. Add to that a magical performance from the always-controversial striker Balotelli and an attack that showed hints of being capable to put other shots at the back of the net and you’ve got yourself a very strong and menacing Italian side.
Keys to the Match- Italy
- Another heroic performance from Buffon;
- Have Pirlo control the flow of the ball
- The Cassano-Balotelli duo must link well
Keys to the Match- Spain
- Casillas must command the defense
- Xavi and Iniesta must connect as they do with Barcelona
- (if they don’t play a classic #9) Players must be more selfish and attempt a shot
Predicted Winners: ITALY