EURO 2012 final
Spain aim to make history on Sunday as they look to become the first side to win three consecutive international tournaments, but they will be up against an Italian side who frustrated them in a 1-1 draw on day three of Euro 2012.
West Germany reached three consecutive finals in the 70’s, but you sense if Spain win tonight, they will go down as the greatest palette of players to ever play for a national side. This Spain side is not the all conquering side of Euro 2008 though. The efforts of the last four years seem to be catching up with the team (especially the Barcelona players) and their performance against Portugal was one of their least convincing in recent tournaments.
Their passing accuracy was down at (just) 75% against Portugal and Spain look like a long-distance runner desperately trying to make the finishing line. Performances have not yet peaked, but if Spain manage to grind out a 1-0 win it will have been a virtuoso lesson in monopolising possession and dominating games. A 1-0 to Spain looks the scoreline if Spain are to win tonight, it is available at 4/1 here.
I didn’t think I’d say this two months ago after he blazed a penalty into the Allianz Arena to hand Bayern a spot in the Champions League final, but Sergio Ramos has arguably been the standout performer for Spain. Returning to centre-back the 26-year-old has covered for Carlos Puyol with all the gusto and passion that we are used to from the Barcelona captain. Neither player is the most technically proficient, but they will attack the ball and are incredibly committed defenders.
The Panenka penalty that Ramos coolly despatched past Rui Patricio, was sublime and suggested that the defender has spent the last two months practising penalties (or watching Italy play). Spain don’t have a striker, and other than Busquets none of their midfielders has really impressed in Poland and Ukraine. Ramos has been part of a Spain side that has conceded just one goal and has made some superb individual contributions leading the way from the more established Pique.
UEFA and FIFA seem to have an instinctive predisposition to look away from defenders when awarding their player of the tournament, but if any defender deserves the accolade it is Ramos, who in the space of three weeks has matured incredibly, from the young man who already hold the red-card record at Madrid, into an international standard centre back.
In contrast to the burnt out Spanish, Italy look to be finding form at the right time and have produced two sensational displays in the quarters and semi-final. The Juventus inspired defence has been resolute and Andrea Pirlo, flanked excellently by two midfield dynamos De Rossi and Marchisio, has been the best midfielder at the tournament.
Pirlo, Buffon, Barzagli and De Rossi are the only survivors from the World Cup winning squad from 2006 and their play at Euro 2012 has arguably been more expansive then Spain’s. They dominated their two knockout games in midfield and with Cassano and Balotelli on-song up front they will thoroughly challenge the Spanish procession. Spain will need to disrupt the midfield axis that shields Pirlo or his passing ability will pick holes in the Spanish backline.
I’m backing Italy to edge it, they are 6/4 to win Euro 2012 or go for an Italy 2-1 at 14/1.