Tag Archives: Italy

Spain: Making Up For Lost Time

No Carles Puyol, no David Villa – no problem…


In a European Championship long on drama but short on wow, Spain’s final emasculation of storied futbol powerhouse Italy extended a welcome exclamation point. But more importantly, Spain’s record-breaking third major international championship in a row did two over-arching things: (1) it put to rest the notion that La Furia Roja’s short, crisp and precise passing, quick, suffocating defense and intricate midfield-intensive possession game was so much more than it’s boring, negative reputation; and (2) it was a reverberating announcement to the rest of the world that the longest rule by any futbol side, club or national, would continue.


This was not the flashiest team to watch – ergo their reputation for being mundane and boring – and this clearly was not the team we’ve seen through the two previous editions that waltzed through the last European Championship and South Africa 2010, but this was the efficient, even-keeled team we’ve come to expect from a team headed by Vicente del Bosque. Not only has no team in European Championship history scored more goals, but no team has ever allowed fewer. In three major international tournaments across four years, La Furia Roja has not allowed a single score in any elimination game.


Stated simply, you can’t score on them; you can’t even get the ball from them. And what’s worse, not only do THEY know it, but so do their opponents.


Even in games in which Spain has scored one or no goals, they are so frustratingly suffocating as to be demoralizing. Need proof? Just ask Portugal.


If this is boring, then so be it, because Spain makes this work to perfection, and have created an international dynasty the likes of which nobody has ever seen in futbol. This may not be pleasing to watch, but neither was “Moneyball”, a way of playing baseball that received the same kind of negative response from insiders and observers yet in driving three teams to several world championships became the primary business paradigm of Major League Baseball. If the keepers of futbol are really paying attention, “tiki taka” futbol, as the Spanish style has come to be referred, should be the preferred paradigm worldwide for the next generation.


Spain’s label as classic and perennial under-achievers – a designation earned from having world-class talent and world-class ability to seriously challenge for international hardware yet figuring out some way of screwing it up for 44 years – has long since been put asunder. Their iron-fisted rule of international futbol for going on six years now makes their previous reputation seem like ancient history given their current master class the likes of which has never been seen.


Since being unceremoniously drop-kicked out of the 2006 World Cup, the national side that surly, intense former manager Luis Aragones and calm, laid-back current manager del Bosque have put together have simply been invincible. That’s because Aragones and del Bosque have instilled in Spain the one necessary trait that had been lacking those previous lost 4 decades: An undeniable believe in themselves and a refuse-to-lose quality.


It is quite clear that the whole that is La Furia Roja – though loaded with star-quality and world-class players – is greater than the sum of its part. Even without the aforementioned world-class players in Puyol and Villa, Spain managed to waltz through this tournament. Part of the reason they were labeled as boring and negative may be because they never gave the appearance of playing with any urgency – they always looked like they were just mailing it in. Such was the belief in themselves and confidence in their system: Lose Puyol and Villa? No problem. Just plug in Sergio Ramos and David Silva and soldier on.


The team everybody was expecting to meet Spain in the final, Germany, has now assumed the mantle of under-achievers. While having won international hardware more recently during Spain’s lost decades, in 5 of the last 6 international tournaments dating back to 2002 they’ve been expected to feast on international competition with their new wide attacking style that runs opponents to exhaustion. Yet every time Germany has gotten to the threshold of greatness they’ve been denied by some motivated upstart that chose that particular moment to play way above what was expected (Brazil in 2002, Italy in 2006, Spain in 2008 and 2010). This year was no different, with a German side hitting on all cylinders getting unceremoniously drop-kicked out of the tournament in the semis by an Italian side in disarray coming into the Euros yet finding some unknown form through 4 games.


So it was left to the Italians — with their quick-strike counterattack anchored by surging Andrea Pirlo and Mario Baloteli, and the past masters of the fabled lockdown defense known as catenaccio – to finally put an end to this boring football employed by the Iberians –


— Italy never stood a chance…


Spain clearly saved the best for last. Like a hawk picking apart a rat carcass, that La Furia Roja mechanically and methodically picked apart one of history’s three most powerful, successful and storied national sides so spectacularly and stunningly was nothing short of embarrassing.


In establishing what is clearly the longest running international dynasty, del Bosque set a record of his own. He became the first futbol manager to hit the trifecta: a club world championship (with Real Madrid), an international continental championship, and an international world championship. It’s about time we started mentioning del Bosque in the same rarefied air as Alex Fergusen, Alf Ramsey and Mario Zagalla.


Is Spain the best national side ever? This is a team loaded with star-quality and world-class players, what you expect historic national sides such as Brazil ’58-’62 (Pelè, Garrincha, Didi), Brazil ’68-’72 (Pelè, Jairzinho, Rivelino), Germany ’72-’76 (Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Mueller, Sepp Maier), Argentina ’78 and ’86 (Diego Maradona, Mario Kempes, Daniel Passarella) and France ’98-’00 (Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry, Lillian Thuram) to have. But while Spain has enjoyed the longest continuous tenure of winning of any of the aforementioned national sides, the national sides that Spain has had to beat, while good in their own right, don’t rise to the quality of the opposition those other international dynasties had to face…


…But go to South America two years hence for the 2014 World Cup and defeat the purveyors of la joga bonita on their home soil in the hemisphere that no off-hemisphere side has ever won, then the case for Spain as the best ever would be sealed.


– daveydoug

26. Italy

What Went Right?  On the rare occasions when Italy played with confidence, put passes together, took advantage of space and made diagonal runs they were effective, but those occasions were rare. Showed flashes of the old grit and determination at times and that was at least enough to give them a chance at the next round. It’s not that they didn’t play badly —

What Went Wrong?  — They just didn’t play very well. What can be said that hasn’t been already? This Italian side was just barely mediocre. They played with none of the pizzazz, influence or cohunes of past incarnations of the team. They looked lackadaisical and listless. You could tell that they wanted to do all the things that specifically characterizes their game: Passing, creativity, defend, quick counterattacks, flair, movement, diagonal runs, service, finishing, and even net minding. They just fell short, as if the mind was willing but the body just didn’t want to respond. Everybody they played was faster, stronger, quicker, more athletic, and more skilled. And when it became apparent to everybody they played that this team just didn’t have a fifth or even fourth gear to kick it into, their opponents found weaknesses to exploit – and in the case of Slovakia, went for the jugular. For a world championship side to fall this far this fast and crash and burn as spectacularly as they did was just painful to watch.

Who Stepped Up To The Plate?  It was mostly the new players who showed individual initiative that stepped up. Antonio di Natale and Fabio Quagliarella up front saw off some decent chances and scored. Domenico Criscito and Giorgio Chiellini showed some defensive chops. Claudio Marchisio showed an affinity for being an all-rounder in midfield. Federico Marchetti did pretty well in net in Gigi Buffon’s stead. The only players from four years ago that played well were Mauro Camorenesi in the center of midfield, who provided instant energy and attacking organization and creativity, and Daniele de Rossi, coming in to create offense from the right. Basically the young players showed enthusiasm and energy —

Who Didn’t Show Up?  — It was the grizzled veterans that looked like they just didn’t have quick-twitch reactions anymore. Buffon fell apart way too easily, and his tournament was over only 45 minutes into the first fixture. Fabio Cannavaro, the player most responsible for Italy’s world championship in 2006, hadn’t even been in form for his club side for over two years. He clearly didn’t even belong on the national side. Gianluca Zambrotta just didn’t have it on the right flank. Ricardo Montilivio had lost his bite in front of the backline, and Alberto Gillardino had lost some of his refined finishing, and Gennaro Gattuso just wasn’t a bull of a presence anymore. Worst of all, because they didn’t have a creator in front of the strikers in the box, Andrea Pirlo played out of position; he is an orchestrator and a linkup player – still one of the best there is – but he isn’t a midfielder who has the inventiveness or vision to be a playmaker up front.

How Was The Coaching?  They say you can never go back. Marcello Lippi is proof positive of that. He thought he could come back after a two-year absence, get back some of the old crew, and never miss a beat. He took a team that had long past its prime and, failing to integrate newer players and get rid of older players long since out of form, regain that old magic and defend the cup. He failed miserably. As much credit as Lippi should get for their World Cup title four years ago, he deserves virtually all of the blame for this side’s colossal fall from grace.

Did They Finish Where They Were Expected?  Obviously not. This is Italy; they expect to win every World Cup they’re in. If you ask ordinary Italian citizens the only reason the Azzurri hasn’t won every World Cup is because of some grand conspiracy. I’m sure the Italian media is thinking up several of them as we speak.

Now What?  Like I said, this is Italy. They’ll figure it out in short order and start beating up the world in no time. They have way too many great players and coaches not to.

South Africa 2010 Match Observations: Group F

Some random observations after the third group fixtures:

Paraguay 0-0 New Zealand: Paraguay was the aggressor early, but New Zealand pulled everyone back on defense, forcing long shots only. Paraguay dominated possession in the first half, but the Kiwis’ discipline on defense frustrated them and neither goalie was tested. The All Whites opened up somewhat in the second half, but still played very conservatively. Paraguay earned the first corner of the game 15 minutes into the second half, but the crowded penalty area prevented several shots from getting through. New Zealand brought on a defender for a forward and then a midfielder for another forward in the second half. Apparently the Kiwis are more concerned with preserving a tie instead of going for the win that would advance them. Unable to get through passes, La Albirroja tried to get some long balls into the box but could not connect on those either. The Kiwi defense really took the Paraguayans out of their game. The draw still netted Paraguay the top seed out of the group. New Zealand, the lowest ranked team in the World Cup, failed to advance as expected, but should be proud to have finished with three points and ahead of the defending champs in group play.

Slovakia 3-2 Italy: As with earlier group fixtures, the Italian offense was stale and unable to penetrate the box early on. Slovakia, which had played leadenly in its prior game, came out with much greater intensity against the Italians. The Italians lacked any kind of coherence and gave away the ball far too often. Daniele De Rossi played an extremely poor pass in front of his own box that was easily intercepted by Juraj Kucka, who then struck a through ball to Robert Vittek and he beat the goalie with a well hit shot to the left post. The Italian defensive reputation has taken a real hit in the group fixtures and their lackluster play calls Marcello Lippi’s decision to field the oldest squad in the Cup into question. They nearly gave up another goal in first half stoppage time on an excellent volley by Kucka from 35 yards out that was barely wide. The Azzurri came out with a little more energy in the second half, but were still slow and inaccurate on their passes. Andrea Pirlo, the star of the 2006 World Cup winning Italy team, came on a sub early in the second half, his first action since a calf injury just prior to the tournament. The Slovaks pulled back into a more defensive posture, but found some counterattacks as they out-hustled Italy all over the field. Midway through the second, the Italians got their first real opportunity when Fabio Quagliarella fired a half-volley from the corner of the goal box that was blocked by a defender’s knee at the goal line. It was very hard to tell if the ball crossed the line before hitting the knee and no goal was given. Minutes later, the Italian defense again failed on a poor clearance of a cross that got pushed right back to Vittek near the right post and his quick turn and shot to the near post caught the goalie off-balance for Slovakia’s second goal. The Azzurri finally broke through when a blocked shot deflected to Antonio Di Natale who easily put it into the open goal. The goal finally woke up the Italians. After not testing the Slovakian goalie all game, they began peppering him in the last 10 minutes. Another Italian goal got called back for an offside. Their defense failed to react quickly on a long throw-in to the box, however, and Kamil Kopunek simply raced past the defenders and lifted a chip over the on-rushing goalie for Slovakia’s third goal. Italy struck right back though when Quagliarella lifted a beautiful chip from 20 yards out over the goalie. It was too little too late and unbelievably, Italy’s loss sent them home, just like fellow 2006 finalist France. Both teams played poorly in their first two fixtures, but Slovakia earned its invitation to the second round because they played a full 90 minutes when it counted and the Italians did not.