Archive for July, 2012


There is nothing eternal in this world except the change itself. How true. And no exception goes to football. Euro 2012 has been highlighting the change among the how the football is played among the nations. Here we go, oh the list goes without particular order :

1. Spain

The first team ever that has won European tournament back to back, the first team ever that has won 3 major tournament with the World Cup trophy sandwiched between them. The achievement of imperious Spain is at its peak and many argue if any team could emulate such feat in future. But behind such shiny golden ink there was a gloomy taint behind it. Before 2008, Spain was an European sickman, never had won anything since 1968. Top players emerged, the clubs won the international scene, the national team always impressed during early phase of tournament, but La Furia Roja always fail to win any single trophy.

What a contrary to be compared with current Spain. At 2010, Spain lost their first match against Switzerland. Doubts haunted over the national team, but eventually they marched on through victory and made the history. Never did the World Cup winner lost their first match, but Spain did and they break the myth to lay it as the foundation of their glory.

Pretty much same script happened in Euro 2012. Draw against Italy and late-game winner against Croatia made them looked somewhat weak. Then, Spain advanced to semifinal and final through penalty shootout, twice, against France and Portugal. Unimpressive results, slow passing, no real striker, and labeled as boring. It seemed Spain would undergo difficult night at final, but they saved the best for the last. Now all the critics sound like a jokes considering how fantastic was the final display against Italy.

Back then, people knew Spain as king of qualifiers and knockout flops. Now, the team turns into monsters of knockout stage, as statistics prove that they have never conceded any single goal during 13 matches at it.

2. Germany

Compared to Spain, the contrast phenomena happened to Germany. Known as the tournament specialis, Germany always ready to provide surprise. Who expect Germany would thump the legendary Hungary 3-2 in World Cup 1954 final although the Magic Magyar thrashed them 5-2 in previous meeting in group ? Fast forward to 20 years later, now the legendary Total Football Netherlands fell victim to Panzer Team. They hadn’t play any beautiful football, nor the players had dazzling technique. It was their teamwork and tough champion mentality to be feared. Look at Euro 1996. Look how Bierhoff had such nerve of steel to calmly slot the ball past Czech goal to claim Henry Danaulay trophy. Compare him to Schweinsteiger that even didn’t have nerve to watch his teammate taking a penalty in UCL Final extra time. What a backstep.

The Germans could grieve over how it turns out. Now, Germany had always been considered as tournament contender. They had always impressed the world with their terrific matches. Still fresh in mind that Germany scored 4-0 result twice in World Cup 2010, against Australia and Argentina, only to fall in semifinal against Spain. Pretty much same story in Euro 2012. Love game in group stage, defeated Greece 4-2 with different players, thus made it 15 winning consecutive matches and it is still the world record. Great squad depth and winning momentum created a juggernaut phatamorgana, but it was great void inside. The tournament specialist has gone, the champion mentality has gone, Germany didn’t have any grasp in game in their defeat against Italy thus made them into tournament flops.

It is kinda ironic that actually never has in history German have such abundant players resources. Neuer, Hummels, Lahm, Schwensteiger, Kheidira, Ozil, Gomez. All of them are leading players in football world in their respective position. The backups are nothing short of lacking. Howedes, Reus, Goetze, Klose etc, they would make it into first team if they have different nationality. Such great resources to no avail. They couldn’t emulate what their predecessors did. The older generation of Germany national team might envy the ballskill of current generation, but the latter must be drooling all over the floor for the mentality of the former.

3. Italy

The defence of Nazionale used to be known as sturdy as Colosseum. Now, it is as soft as the gelato. Veterans such as Zoff, Baresi, Zenga, Pagliuca, Peruzzi, Scirea (RIP), Baresi, Maldini, Costacurta, Gentile, Cannavaro etc must be scratching their head now to see how the defense are lined up today. If Pagliuca could impress in World Cup 1998 albeit his position as Peruzzi’s deputy and Toldo could became national hero only because Buffon suffered sudden injury, now the already 34-years Buffon can’t find adequate backup. And how could Bonucci, Barzagli, and Chiellini step up in the position which was filled by Nesta-Cannavaro. It became even funnier when Prandelli must pick De Rossi as makeshift central defender. Back then Italy could had 6 worldclass defenders. The irony goes on with considering Ranocchia into Euro roster (substituting Criscito). Even the slight tought of considering Ranocchia should be considered as a crime against legendary reputation of Italy defence.

4. England

Euro 2012 was just another extention of traditional England. Having the most fascinating league in the world, great individual quality, off-the-pitch problems, injury problems, disciplinary problems, and lost to penalty shoot-out. Same old England, right ? But there was something missing. It was the overhype thing, there wasn’t any favourite tag on England jersey. When was the last time we heard the English and press didn’t consider their national team as title contender ?

Premier League sure is the most attractive league in the world and seems that it misleads entire England people to believe that their nation is the great football powerhouse in the globe. As fact speaks, false. The last major trophy that England got is World Cup 1966, it was 46 years ago. During these 46 years, the best achievement England could get was the semifinal of Euro 1996. Considering such facts, it is funny how every English, especially press, keeps overating the national team and underestimating the others. Spain couldn’t be a world champion because they only had 1 EPL players Fernando Torres ? Messi would struggle in cold night of Stoke ? Pele and Maradona were untested because they had never played in EPL ? The list of such ignorant lines goes on. And today the miracle happen. They considered Spain and Germany as strong favourites and they didn’t put any high expectation to the national team. The troubles before the tournament might be affecting all of them. Regardless what happened, it was the first time (or maybe the last time ?) the Three Lions went to tournament without the aim to be the triumphant.

5. Brazil

The producer of mass silk-touch players now has turned into steel-legs factory. Brazil was used to be identic with great attacker and weak defender. Please name the great attackers Brazil have ever have and the list will go endless. Now, please name the great defenders before 2000 and you will have hard time, let alone to name the goalkeeper. And what a surprise to see how Brazil is lined up today. The core is on the defence. Cesar, Lucio, Thiago Silva, Ramires, and Lucas, who could imagine Brazil will produce such tremendous goalkeeper, centerbacks, and defensive midfielders ? Aldair and Dunga would wonder if they could have such immense partners in defensive line. But forget it, the former would laugh instead if he checks who fills in the attacking unit role. As for Dunga, he might wonder if CBF has emulated his coaching method too far.

The emergence of solid defence isn’t as surprising as the submergence of the forwards. Brazil used to have Garrincha, Pele, Zico, Ronaldo, Rivellino, Jairzinho, Falcao, Socrates, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo etc. And now, whom Brazil have ? Kaka had ended his career by moving to Los Blancos. Hulk, Pato, Robinho, Neymar, and Ganso are pale in comparison to the legendary names mentioned above. Neymar and Ganso are both talented and still have much time to develop themselves, but considering how they played in Copa America 2011, Brazil should worry about the future.. Never had Brazil attended the tournament without worldclass strikers since 1958 and today, they did it in 2 recent tournaments (World Cup and Copa America). And recently Brazil is ranked 11 in FIFA world ranking, the first time in football history. Well, there is first of everything, but in Brazil case, they are sure too many and in unpleasant ways.

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Euro 2012 is over, but big question marks still linger over Prandelli. He has done a good job, very good job to bring Italy only 1 step away from the trophy. But, one can’t help being questioned after heavy defeat on final stage. Now, let’s see the analysis of every Prandelli’s decision :

1. Stay offensive

Experience told us tiki-taka Barcelona only lost to defensive and counter attacking football such as Inter Milan, Madrid, and Chelsea. Exception goes to Arsenal who were able to fight them offensively, but statistics suggest the most effective way to defeat tiki-taka football is by soaking it up then executing the blitzkrieg. Prandelli is known for his attacking football and he didn’t leave his trademark even in final against Spain. The question is, should he emulate defensive approach like clubs above ? Or should he stick to his primary plan ?

For me, Prandelli has chosen the right decision to attack Spain. Sudden change in the final would confuse the entire team and weakened the confidence of the entire team. You can’t expect the players have confidence if the leader himself doesn’t. Also, history told us that sudden defensive approach against Spain would hardly work as Germany did it in Euro 2008 final and World Cup 2010 semifinal. Loew decided to betray his own philosophy because his opponent was Spain whose quality was about equal or a bit stronger. The outcome were Germany players didn’t have any idea what they were doing on the pitch. They defended well, but they hardly threatened Spain. Although Spain players didn’t feel comfortable against such defensive method, neverthless they still found the solution to eliminate defensive Germany, twice.

Tactically speaking, Italy would underwent bigger problem if they chose to defend. Remember, this is not Italy we used to know. The current Italy has its biggest weakness in backline, yes it is something unimaginable for a nation who has produced plenty elite defenders. Did Italy have the defensive quality to withstand heavy onslaught of Spanish quick thrust ? I don’t think so.

2. Changed to 4-4-2 diamond

This is the most criticized decision. Italy did well with 3-5-2 against Spain in group stage, but they left it for 4-4-2 diamond in final. Okay, lets analyze the comparison of both formation against Spain.

The 3-5-2 suggests Italy would have stronger midfield than 4-4-2 as they have more numbers in that zone. But it was actually no. Prandelli has chosen absolutely correct decision in 4-4-2. The diamond in midfield was very effective to break the attack that came from middle and Italy succeeded to destroy Germany rhythm from the midfield. If Prandelli used 3-5-2, Italy would have only 3 players in midfield zone because the wingbacks were on the flanks. When Spain menaced the midfield zone of Italy, the wing back would be at risked being sucked into middle zone to assist his teammate fighting Spain dominance in midfield. Then, either Alba or Arbeloa would bomb forward exploiting such big hole on the flank.

One surprising feature of the final is, how Spain fullbacks actively helped the attack. This was so different with previous meeting where Arbeloa rarely contributed anything in offence and Alba struggled to make impact on left flank. In final, Arbeloa was really brave to leave his post at risk of being exploited by Cassano. Well, perhaps Del Bosque and Arbeloa had confidence after managed to handle Ronaldo in semifinal with such method. At other side, Alba produced his best performance in Euro and his goal really summed up what he was capable to and what Spain really needed. So, would 3-5-2 help Italy against such aggressive wing attack ?

When Italy used 3-5-2, the wingbacks would consist of Maggio and Giacherini. The question is, could both of them peg back Spain fullbacks ? Could they instill fear on Arbeloa-Alba from going forward ? To peg back opponent’s fullbacks from goinf forward, the team must have dangerous attacker on flank (example : Mourinho always put Ronaldo in left flank to prevent Dani Alves going forward). Based on their performance in club level and previous meeting, Maggio-Giacherini didn’t have enough capacity to occupy opponents fullbacks. And if they replicate such performance in final, it would turn out Arbeloa-Alba pegged them back instead not vice-versa. No, 3-5-2 wouldn’t work in both flanks department.

Last, Spain formation was either 4-6-0 or 4-5-1. To deploy 3 center backs against 1 striker was an overkill defence, let alone if there was no striker at all. Such defensive pattern would leave shortfall somewhere and the effects are : 1) Italy didn’t have attacking outlet as the extra man was on backline, not midfield, 2) the midfield struggled to withstand Spain’s dominance in that zone.

3. Starting line-up

Abate filled right back role although Maggio was available. This is correct as Maggio is more comfortable playing rather as wingback than fullback.  All season long Maggio played as right wingback in 3-5-2 Napoli while Abate played as right fullback in 4-4-2 Milan.

Chiellini as left back ? Well, this is the least understandable decision for me. If Prandelli really wanted to attack, why did he put defensive-nature back as left back ? Chiellini is left back, not left fullback, and both of them has huge difference in term of offensive contribution. Okay, maybe Prandelli wanted some insurance in flank defence, but he already knew even before the match started Chiellini would deal with Arbeloa, the least offensive-capable player in Spain squad. Did Prandelli anticipate Silva who always drifted inside ? But Italy already had enough players in midfield zone. And Silva cut inside should be good news for 4-4-2 diamond Italy as Spain would have very little space in the zone. Or, did Prandelli think it would be a waste to bench one of his best defender ? I don’t know,  I cannot find any justification for it.

Chiellini injury was a blessing in disguise. Balzaretti proved to be only Italy attacking outlet. As Pirlo was heavily closed down by Spain, Italy couldn’t rely on his long diagonal thoughball to Cassano and Balotelli. And, the simple ball to left flank eventually became the solution as Balzaretti provided the forward drive and helped Italy relieving the pressure.

4. Substitution

Chielline got injured and Balzaretti came in. As explained above, Balzaretti was more useful than Chiellini in such situation and Prandelli got the substitution correct.

After 2-0 down, Prandelli subbed in Di Natale for Cassano. Di Natale loves to station himself at the shoulder of the defence and breaks offside trap. Such approach yielded a goal in Spain-Italy first match. Also, Cassano has fitness problem which preventing him to play 90 minutes in optimum level. Let alone in such grand stage against Spain. The pressure and the game’s quick tempo would drain his weak stamina even quicker. So, like it or not, Cassano were ought to be substituted and any coach wouldn’t want to waste his substitution slot. Right call for Prandelli.

The third substitution was the most decisive. It was Motta for Montolivo. The latter was deservedly pulled out as he couldn’t replicate his form against Germany. As the most advanced midfield in diamond, Montolivo was given a task to break Spain rhythm from their half, just like he did against Germnay. Then, he failed. He didn’t play badly, instead it was because Spain’s passing was in other world level, a league away from Germany or any nation in the world. Any player wouldn’t stand a chance chasing such quick accurate passing with telephatic understanding among the players. Ran out of stamina because of fruitless chasing, Prandelli got his decision right to bench Montolivo.

But, at the other end of pitch, his presence raised many eyebrows in bewilderment. Thiago Motta introducement sure was the unanticipated surprise. At 2-0 down, Italy were supposed to catch up Spain, but why did they introduce Motta ? The reason why Italy couldn’t get the game within their grasp was their lack of creative player. Their main creativity source, Pirlo, never got away from Spain attention. De Rossi couldn’t provide the service like Pirlo does. Marchisio had terrible game. Montolivo rarely impressed in attacking department in his national team career and now he ought to help in defence too. I expect mobile creative players, the likes of Diamanti or Giovinco as attacking outlet. Pirlo is static playmaker and when he was closed down tightly, he urgently needed someone to assist him to distribute the ball out (just like Xavi-Iniesta relationship). Did Prandelli doesn’t have enough faith in Diamanti or Giovinco ability ? It makes sense as both of them are hardly tested in tough international game, let alone in final against Spain.

So, the introducement of Motta suggested Prandelli still wanted to keep his old system, but with fresh legs. Did he believe Motta was able to disrupt Spain midfielders and slowly enabled Italy to get back to the game ? By watching the game, anybody would tell it was virtually imposibble to defend such ball circulation and I believe Prandelli thought the same too. So, did he surrender and he put in Motta to prevent the score gap from getting any bigger than 2-0 ? Who knows ? Either way, it was not Prandelli’s fault. Italy didn’t have adequate squad depth to compete with Spain and the dire situation put him in 2 dilemmas in 2-0 down. Option 1 : put in reliable uncreative midfielder, Italy could prevent the conceding and hoped for Spain caught offguard. Option 2 : put in explosive unreliable player at the risk of conceding. Then, Prandelli chose first option only to see the fresh legs turned into damaged leg only after 5 minutes. It was nobody’s fault, nobody to blame, it was utter misfortune, and the sign that the wheel of fate still rolled in Spain favour.

Conclusion :

Sounds pesimisitic maybe, but there is no solution to fight against currently world best team in their highest gear. Regardless what Italy did, which players they used, which formation they deployed, etc, Spain would achieve victory with such playing level. This is the legendary level of football , only can be equaled by Magic Magyar 1954, Brazil 1970, and Total Football 1974.

The only team who are able to beat Spain are Spain themselves and that were what from their first match until semifinal. Spain hadn’t shown their true class until final. Narrow and predictable attack, uncapable to break through the defence, and slow passing. Italy was unfortunate that they fought true Spain in final, not in group stage.

Prandelli did a great job here. Admitted, there were some imperfections within his plan, but nobody’s perfect. Italy fans should respect him for his contibution to deliver the national team to the final. Few expected Italy could make it this far, but Prandelli managed to. My hats off to Mr. Prandelli.

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