The last day of Euro 2012 is here, with the exciting prospect of the final between Spain and Italy to be played in Kiev tonight. The sides played out a 1-1 draw in the group stages three weeks ago, and meet again in differing circumstances. After yesterday’s preview of the game, here is the latest news, views and sound-bites ahead of the crunch clash.
Del Bosque to drop false nine in favour of forward
Spain enter the final as holders and favourites, but as with any game the tactics of both sides will have a dramatic impact on the outcome of the match. Whilst Italy have changed from a 3-5-2 to a 4-1-3-2 with excellent results since the last time the teams met, Vicente Del Bosque has rotated his squad and team layout to suit the potential opponent.
When the teams met in the Group C opener, Cesc Fabregas was deployed as the furthest man forward in a team of six midfielders and no recognised striker. This strategy has been used frequently by Spain in the tournament, but the World Cup-winning coach has given a big hint that a designated striker will be deployed tonight.
“We will play with three strikers, but all the team have to help them,” the ex-Real Madrid boss told reporters at a press conference on Saturday.
“These three players will have the obligation to attack and to try to score a goal. We have more obligation to attack than to defend.”
This would suggest that Del Bosque will select either Fernando Torres or Alvaro Negredo to spearhead the side’s front-line, which will in turn create additional space ahead of the retreating Italian defence for the likes of David Silva and Andres Iniesta to make use of. Consequently Fabregas, who scored against Italy in the group stage draw and converted the winning penalty against Portugal, will most likely start from the bench but should have a role to play as a substitute.
Clash of the keepers
An array of individual battles all over the pitch will play their part in the end result of the game, but both sides have their goalkeeper as captain and talisman. Iker Casillas leads the World Cup winners ahead of the likes of Victor Valdes, Pepe Reina and David De Gea, whilst Gianluigi Buffon is an evergreen stalwart of the Azzurri side.
Should Italy win the game today the Juventus man will equal Casillas’ international trophy haul of one World Cup and one European Championships. Should Spain win and the Real Madrid stopper will go down in history as one of the most successful captains and goalkeepers in the history of the game.
31-year-old Casillas has 136 caps compared to 34-year-old Buffon’s 119 appearances for his country. The Spain skipper has stated his admiration for his opposite number this week, confessing that he looks up to the Italian.
“Buffon has my admiration and maximum respect. He is an exceptional goalkeeper and at 34 is still amongst the best. For goalkeepers that are a little younger than him he has been a reference, he has driven us and we wanted to be like him. We have a good relationship and every time we meet it is a pleasure.”
Super Mario’s date with destiny
Mario Balotelli was Italy’s saviour in their 2-1 semi-final win over Germany, grabbing a first-half brace to put the Azzurri into an unassailable lead and fire them into the final of the competition. The temperamental Manchester City forward can either be a hero or villain, as has been proved on countless occasions in the past, but for now Balotelli has the admiration and love of the Italian fanbase and media.
Balotelli ran to the crowd to embrace his adoptive mother during the game against Germany, and his parent has revealed that her son is deeply emotional and has had a summer of highs and lows so far.
“When he feels in difficulty, under attack or betrayed, Mario reacts by clamming up. He isolates himself from others and that’s what happened before the Ireland game [when he was dropped].
“We struggled to contact him and he wouldn’t answer messages. This is why I wept with joy.
“Those two goals in such a wonderful and important match liberated him, as his talent and the little genius inside came out. He managed to prove what he wanted to, finally.”
Despite Balotelli being in line to start against Spain, The Telegraph’s Alan Hansen has stated that one good performance against Germany does not make the attacker great, and that he still has to prove his worth. Meanwhile, Cesare Prandelli has praised his forward, and feels that Balotelli has come of age this summer.
Iniesta the key man for Spain
Spain have a star-studded squad and a raft of world-class players, but Andres Iniesta has emerged this summer as La Roja’s most devastating attacking weapon. The Barcelona attacking midfielder has been in terrific form, receiving accolades for his performances throughout the campaign.
Cesc Fabregas has admitted that his club and international team-mate could well be the difference between the two sides tonight, with the ex-Arsenal man backing Iniesta to put in another man-of-the-match showing. The Guardian are also full of praise for the 28-year-old, stating that he has a key role to play for the world champions once more.
Despite this, Iniesta is shy and modest, stating that he does not feel he deserves the MVP award at the tournament and would prefer a team victory to any individual recognition.
We are all set for what should be an exciting game between two teams of contrasting styles. Enjoy the last game of the tournament and come back tomorrow for a full match report and assessment of the final, and Soccerlens’ tournament awards.