Euro 2012 Day 11: Spain and Italy labour through
Perhaps the least enjoyable day of the European championships ended with Spain and Italy booking their quarter-final places. The possession stats show complete domination by both teams, but don’t really do justice to the performance of either Croatia or Ireland.
This time around, the Italians fielded a 4-4-2 formation with a diamond midfield. With the full backs offering good support, the extra man in midfield helped the Italians keep the ball for longer periods. But it also made them look a little open at the back and the Irish had a couple of good chances.
Italy’s defense is not as solid as in the past and while Pirlo is a big influence, their midfield doesn’t look as strong as those of Spain, Germany or France. But their three main strikers have all scored in the opening three matches now. What they lack in individual quality, they make up for in collective effort. And along with their ability to improve in later stages of tournaments and their flexibility to change tactics for different opponents, Italy still have the potential to go the distance.
Spain had even more possession than Italy but Croatia were in the game until late on and could have won it if Rakitic’s late header had not been saved by Casillas. Spain’s build up play was slow and predictable and Croatia defended with eight men behind the ball.
The fact that Croatia needed to score played into the hands of the Spaniards. Bilic made attacking substitutions which opened the game up and with tiredness setting in among the Croatian back-line, Cesc Fabregas had plenty of time to find Iniesta with a chipped pass. The Croats were caught flat-footed as their attempt to play Jesus Navas offside failed when the pass was delivered to Iniesta. From there, it was a simple matter of the Barcelona man squaring the ball for the Sevilla winger to walk into the net.
The final two matches of the group stage take place today, with France and England favorites to go through. One can expect Ukraine to come charging out for their match against England, but if Gerrard & Co. can see off the initial energy from the co-hosts, their desperation to score a goal will allow England chances later in the game. Sweden have nothing but pride to play for against France and I expect Laurent Blanc’s side to dominate the game in midfield.
With Rooney back in the side, Hodgson is faced with the dilemma of whom to leave out of the side. I suspect it will be Carroll, even though he scored that wonderful header against Sweden. This is because I believe England will be better served to have the understanding of Rooney, Young and Welback in forward areas especially if they are playing for the counter.
Roy may also start Theo Walcott on the right-wing. His inclusion would be justified not only for the goal and assist against Sweden, but also because the threat of his pace means opposing full backs can’t join attacks without leaving the back door open. With Rooney, Welback, Young and Walcott, the sides look far more attacking than it did in the first game.
2-0 to both France and England. Enjoy the games.