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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Euro 2008: Italy 0 x Spain 0 AET 2 x 4

Spain v Italy - Euro 2008 Quarter Final
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Tactical Changes by Mister Donadoni
: 4-3-1-2

He made five changes after the first game against the Netherlands, and then only two for the last one against France. Tonight, Gennaro "Rino" Gattuso and Andrea Pirlo were suspended, which creates a new challenge. How to replace the tenacity of Gattuso, along with the playmaking and dead ball skills of Pirlo?

Azzurri XI

Buffon, Grosso, Panucci, Chiellini, Zambrotta, De Rossi, Acquilani, Ambrosini, Perrotta, Cassano, Toni. (Changes from the last game in bold).

The History

Since the Olympic Games of 1920 in Antwerp, Belgium, Spain has not defeated Italy in a competitive game. They are unbeaten in the last 19 games, and have won 9 in a row. During that spell, they did beat Italy, 1 x 0, in a March 2008 friendly. Psychologically, they know Italy can be beaten, but on the pitch in a real game is obviously another matter.

Luca Toni's Drought in Nazionale

The big man has not scored in this tournament, although he has been credited with 10 shots on goal. If we analyze the last World Cup, along with his first 3 games at Euro 2008, Toni has scored 2 goals in 10 games. Both came against Ukraine in the quarterfinal round of the last World Cup. He told his Bayern Munich teammate, Miroslav Klose, that "His best friend, the ball, is not doing what he asks of it." One of the weaknesses of this Azzurri team is the supreme dependence upon Toni. In the three previous games, the Azzurri were shutout, Panucci, a defender, scored against Romania, and Pirlo's spot kick, along with an own goal by Thierry Henry against the French.

First Half

The pace was very quick and cautious at the same time. Italy are a much taller side than the Spaniards. There were no clear chances for either team in the first 15 minutes. Italy seemed to favor the left hand side of the field in their approach work. Spain had much more of the possession in the early stages. In the 24th minute, David Villa had a very good free kick that barely left the ground saved by Buffon. There were many hard challenges on both sides. Villa and Silva took a few shots to test Buffon from long distance.

Cassano provided a nice cross to Luca Toni who headed it powerfully. Unfortunately, #4, Marchena, headed it before Casillas was needed. Again, Toni could not finish. The half ended, 0 x 0.

Second Half

The Spanish were more aggressive, and Silva wasted a good opportunity in front of the goal. The Italians, up to this point, were not showing much imagination. Toni was the sole target, and the Spanish were ready for him. Chiellini made three great tackles and clearances deep in his own area against Spanish attacks. Mauro Camoranesi replaced Simone Perrotta in the 58th minute. The Roman did not have a very good outing, and perhaps in retrospect, Camoranesi might have been the better initial choice. He immediately made his presence felt with a volley that only Iker Casillas or Buffon would have saved.

The Italian defense swarmed around Torres or Villa whenever they had the ball. Senna had two shots, and the second one was almost gifted by Buffon but the lower left post was on Gigi's side. Di Natale, a recent substitute for Cassano, sent in a perfect cross that was aimed at Grosso's left foot, but again, Toni interfered and tried an acrobatic volley.

Fernando Torres was subbed out in the 85th minute for David Guiza, the leading scorer in La Liga this past season. He had a great chance but handed the ball during his volley against Buffon. Spain could not penetrate the Azzurri defense as the game ended, 0 x 0.

Extra Time

Spain came very close at the start of this first 15 minute period, and one could sense that they might finally break down the Azzurri fortress. Di Natale of Italy made Casillas jump high to push his header over the bar.

Alex Del Piero came on in the second extra time period. No doubt, Donadoni was looking ahead to the shoot-out. Frankly, I thought he should have entered the game much earlier to give Italy a different option. Santi Cazorla could have won it at the death, but it was not to be.

Penalty Kick Shoot-Out: 2 x 4

De Rossi and Di Natale were saved by Casillas.

Cesc Fabregas scored the winner for Spain.

Spain advances to meet the Russians on Thursday night in Vienna.

Mister Donadoni and Daniele De Rossi After the Game
"Dispiace uscire ai rigori, la delusione è per i ragazzi che avevano dato tutto. È solo per loro. Ma nello spogliatoio ho detto che escono a testa alta".

"I'm sorry to go out on penalties, the delusion is for the boys that gave everything. It is only for them. But in the dressing room, I told them to come out with their heads held high."

"Se i rigoristi non vanno sul dischetto io non mi tiro indietro. E se non mi dicono fatti da parte io non mi sottraggo alle mie responsabilità... I rigori? Io almeno vado a tirarli."

"If the penalty kick takers don't go to the spot, I don't kick myself behind (or miss the kick). And if they don't tell me things apart I don't take away from my responsibilities... The penalties? At least I go up and take them."

(He was somewhat cryptic because we don't know who were named to take spot kicks, and if anyone declined the call by Donadoni. The word "Rigoristi" usually means the ones who specialize in penalties).
Source: La Gazzetta dello Sport, 22 June 2008.

Post-game Analysis
  • Spain had 25 shots (4 on target, 14 off target, and 7 blocked) and Italy had 12 (3 on target, 5 off target, and 4 blocked). Spain had 8 x 3 corners, but Italy had 31 x 25 crosses. Ball possession was 60% x 40% for Spain. Stats courtesy of Gazzetta dello Sport. (Italian journalists do not itemize saves).
  • Buffon had 9 saves x 6 for Casillas according to ESPNsoccernet.
  • Many will criticize the Azzurri for their defensive tactics, but the fact remains that Spain did not create one dangerous chance. Donadoni's lack of midfield choices, along with an aging, slow team, forced him to play 9 in the box against a very technical and gifted Spanish side. His downfall, after the defensive masterpiece, was no offensive threat or a counter attacking mechanism. The team was not in balance.

  • On this day, 22 June, Spain had already lost three penalty kick shoot-outs: In 1986, 1996, and 2002.

  • The 88 year record without a competitive win over Italy in normal time still holds true.

  • It would surprise me if Mister Donadoni remains the Azzurri manager. His tactics for this game, along with the previous ones, relied too heavily on his defense, which thankfully readjusted itself in the last three games. There was too much reliance or faith on one target man. There was no creativity or flexibility in attack, or a sense of any urgency to break the ice and dominate the opponent.

  • You can't play catenaccio for 90 minutes unless you score a goal first. There is no reason why you can't put 3 or 4 strikers in an attack mode for 15 minutes. Spain was vulnerable on their right flank as we saw Gross gallop up and down during the first half, but there was too much fear of losing. Camoranesi should have been selected over Perrotta to add balance and speed to this lineup. If you lose 4 x 2 in normal time versus 4 x 2 in injury time, save the accolades for a great defensive performance, what is the difference? It seems like 20 years ago, and not 2, that Marcello Lippi put on 4 strikers in extra time to win the semi-final against Germany.

  • Luca Toni has only scored two goals in 11 key tournament games (WC 2006 and Euro 2008). His excellent club side form at Palermo, Fiorentina, and Bayern Munich have not been replicated. If your target man can't finish, you are doomed if others don't pick up the slack. This team had few viable alternatives. Borriello and Quagliarella didn't play one minute. Why were they selected at all? Di Natale was not given continuity. Del Piero again failed to put his signature on the National team. Cassano, the risky choice, had moments of brilliance along with times when he disappeared.
  • At this tournament, Italy scored one goal from the run of play by a defender, Panucci, against Romania. The other goal was a spot kick by Pirlo, and Thierry Henry was credited with an own goal. Two goals in four games. The six strikers taken to Euro 208 had over 100 goals combined domestically this season.

  • This was the first time in history that a striker failed to score for Italy in a major tournament.

  • This was the fourth time since 1990 that Italy have bowed out on penalties: 1990 to Argentina, 1994 to Brasil, and 1998 to France. They have won two shoot-outs (Euro 2000 against the Dutch and WC 2006 against France) in the same time frame.

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