Seems a lot of people would have upset bets by the result of the past two days semi finals. People seemed to have backed Portugal against Spain because they either think that Spain are poor (because they’re stupid) or because they’re bored with Spain’s rein. Because they’re stupid.
And in the other game we all backed the Gerrys didn’t we? Italy couldn’t even beat us, the Three Lions with hearts like pensioners. As a result, I think many people will be turned off by the prospect of a southern Europe final.
Most would say the Iberian clash on wednesday was not an entertaining game, that the only truly enjoyable bit was Ronaldo shouting ‘Injustica’ like a man losing a case against Nivea for Men moisturiser in court. My uncle even called the game a farce.
On the whole they would be right, but not my uncle. I enjoyed the game, the tension of whether Ronaldo could get a chance, the considered starvation approach that Spain took. The Spanish will again be charged with playing boring football though.
When taken in small doses the Spanish tika-taka game can seem regressive. The ball goes out wide, the ball goes central, then back out wide. There is no striker, there is no goal focus, there is no way to win the game.
And we all thought this the case in the opening stages of the game. Spain didn’t look like they could win it, and Portugal surprised me with how much they had about them. But as the game went on and extra time loomed and came, the beauty of the Spanish tactic was revealed. Like a tapestry, it can only be understood and examined when viewed as whole.
The Portuguese had some good spells but they were dead by 85 minutes. Your opposition having that much possession is not sustainable. Sure the game went to penalties and it could have gone either way. Perhaps it would have gone further to the wire had Bruno Alves not put the willies up himself by forgetting the taking order.
By the key to Spain’s execution came around the 103th minute. Suddenly they shifted up a few gears to a level that many teams would struggled to match when they’re fresh, let alone physically shattered.
By that point, if there was to be a scorer in time, it would have been Spanish. There was no way for the opposition to muster an attack, no ball time to monopolise. Perhaps Spain should have turned the screw earlier, but there are very few teams that can guarantee the opponents won’t win by a certain point, and do it with such skill.
So leave them alone yeah?
The other game saw Germany against what may well be the closest they have to a bogey team – Italy. The Italians were always going to be more of a threat than they showed against England because Germany wouldn’t defend as deep.
Indeed Germany were taking the game to their opposite numbers, and with Gianluigi Buffon looking shaky for the first time in his career, it seemed an unpleasant time was awaiting for the Azzurri.
But this level of football will punish you for the most minute errors, and that’s exactly what Mats Hummels (I think, I’m writing this on a train) did. Cassano had received the ball wide on the area and was heavily marked. Hummels (maybe) for some reason entirely committed to one side and gave the little Italian a way out. With this space he was able to stand a good ball up which Balotelli, left with only one center half, was able to dispatch like he was playing against Wolves.
The second goal was another error. The Italian counter attack was always going to look dangerous, but with the back pair letting Balotelli get the run on them – one by coming across and one playing offside which is atrocious play – they were doomed. It took a very special finish to make the move complete though and Super Mario was able to provide.
In that game he moved (not permanently) into the top level of strikerdom. The very best forwards will make very hard goals look basic, like any forward would have scored it. The control of the long ball, Lahm bearing down on him, a bobble, and a top corner thunderbolt – it was a special goal for the young Man City man.
It is widely agreed on that conceding a one goal lead to Italy is a dreadful idea, two is suicide. Loew mixed it up at half time by bringing on Reus who looked impressive against Greece, and the experienced Klose on for Gomes.
I have no idea what I make of Mario Gomes. His name seems Italian and he does remind me of Luca Toni, but he doesn’t play like an Italian. Or a German. His goal record was phenomenal domestically, and only Messi could keep him at bay in the Champions League tally – starting up front for Germany needs an impressive CV.
But for all the goals then, and the goal’s he’s grabbed in this tournament, he doesn’t really look any good. He has a Grant Holt battering ram style, but without the energy. He can look clinical but he misses more than puts in, and he generally ruins Germany’s attacks by touching the ball. I have no idea what he’s all about.
What followed was a host of missed chances for Italy to embarrass to the Germans, a consolation goal, and a lot of admiration for the men in blue. We also got a rare chance to hear Germans criticising their team.
So two ball playing teams are to meet in the final. They both have a fulcrum in Xavi and Pirlo, they both have excellent goalkeepers, they both have skilful and versatile midfields, but they don’t both have in-form strikers. Balotelli’s immense performance against Germany hasn’t been equalled in a Spanish shirt.
Sure Cesc Fabregas has been knocking them in, and Iniesta doesn’t normally let tournaments go by without getting a goal. It doesn’t look like del Bosque is a big Fernando Llorente fan, Negredo didn’t look very good against Portugal, and don’t mention Torres because, come on, it was the Irish. All this leaves you with a reliance on midfielders to combine and create, something that could prove troubling considering David Silva and the like’s form.
Italy don’t have this problem. In Super Mario they have someone who is at the highest peak his game has ever reached. He’s establishing himself for his country on a world stage, he’s chasing the golden boot, he’s winning games.
But let’s just see how he gets on without any of the possession. Remember, the above description could apply to Cristiano Ronaldo before the clash with Spain. He just ending up cutting a frustrated figure, not even getting to fluff a penalty.
If Spain’s starvation can cut Balotelli out of the game, and their midfield congestion can shut the door on Pirlo then they will beat Italy. And that’s probably going to happen.