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Euro 2012 Final: Spain vs Italy pre match prediction

Game 5 of Euro 2012 pitted Spain against Italy in one of the premier first round matchups.  Spain was heavily favored and not much was expected of Italy as the Azzurri into the tournament on the back of a a match fixing scandal, a 3-0 loss to Russia in a lead up friendly to the tournament and their left back sent home for potential complicity in match fixing.  Meanwhile, Spain had a few questions – mainly where would goals come from with Villa out injured and Torres in the worst slump of his career and how would the central pairing of Pique and Ramos fare without veteran Puyol to steady the ship.  I predicted a narrow Spain victory.  Instead, it was a dynamic, unafraid Italy that gave Spain all it could handle and the match ended up a 1-1 draw.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and you have an Italian team that seems like more the team of destiny than a Spanish squad that is trying to pull off an unprecedented back-to-back title winning effort of Euro 2008-World Cup 2010-Euro 2012.  Only Germany and France have ever done a back to back.  Can this team be the greatest European team of all time?

This is a close call.  If Germany had made it, I would have predicted a German victory with relative confidence.  However, tomorrow will be very tight.  Here’s a stone cold lock of a prediction – a goalkeeper will be lifting the European Cup tomorrow!  Let’s consider the relevant factors.

Momentum:  Italy has reason to feel that this is their time.  No one counted them amongst even the top 6 teams coming into the tournament, yet they have not been overmatched in any of their five matches at Euro 2012 and have all the confidence following their startling dismantling of Germany in the semi finals.  They seem like the team of destiny. Meanwhile, Spain has not played their best and has been criticized for not being totally convincing in their march to the final.  Edge: Italy

Fatigue: Everyone assumed that Italy would be dead on their legs against Germany after having played extra time against England and having two less days of rest.  Instead they dominated Germany.  Spain have one extra day of rest.  However, they did play extra time and won on an emotionally draining penalty kick shootout.  Edge: Even

History:  Italy hasn’t lost to Spain in a major tournament.  However, Spain did beat Italy in penalties at the last Euro (shootouts don’t count as “victories” as they are officially listed as draws).  Edge: Even

Coaching:  Prandelli has done a masterful job of changing lineups to adjust for injuries and opponents.  He instituted a 3-5-2 in the first match to make up for Criscito’s pre-tournament suspension, with De Rossi playing in central defense.  He then switched back to 4-4-2 to dominate possession against England.  Meanwhile, Vicente del Bosque has struggled to find his best lineup and gone back and forth between utilizing no strikers and then putting in Torres and then Negredo with no real success.  Edge: Italy

Spain Defense vs Italy Offense:  Spain haven’t given up a goal since di Natale scored in their initial match up.  It’s a Euro record.  Pique and Ramo have been solid together and Jordi Alba’s pace and work rate have made him the revelation of Euro 2012 at left back.  Casillas hasn’t been at this best, but you can’t argue with the shutout streak.  Xabi and Busquets have done their usual job of protecting the back four.  Spain is solid.  That said, Cassano and Balotelli have given teams fits with Cassano in particular proving very hard to pick up and using his creativity to good effect.  While Montelivo has become stronger as the tournament has progressed, Italy’s lack of good wide play should help Spain cover for Arbeloa’s lack of pace.  Edge: Spain

Midfield:  I presume Spain will start one striker or use Navas or Pedro instead of Silva or Cesc.  If Spain starts six in midfield, they will dominate possession.  I keep waiting for Pirlo’s lack of mobility to be exposed by a high tempo opposing midfield but it hasn’t happened yet.  I think Spain can do that tomorrow.  Xavi has had a poor tournament and that is the reason Spain is struggling to impose itself.  If he doesn’t have a good game tomorrow, Spain will not be able to win this game.  I expect Spain to finally put a good game together.  Edge: Spain

Spain offense vs Italy defense:  It’s hard to imagine anyone scoring 2 goals against Buffon.  So, assuming Italy scores one as they have done all tournament long (except against England), the best Spain can hope for is the penalty kick shootout.  Spain’s strikers have fared poorly, except for Torres’ double against Ireland.  Meanwhile, Chiellini is back for Italy and Balzaretti has been impressive.  Edge: Italy

Pre-game prediction:  Spain 1 Italy 0

Fatigue finally catches up with Italy.  They will not be able to replicate Portugal’s aggressive press or be able to attack at speed on the wing.  Xavi finally awakes and Spain repeats as defending European champions.  Espana Euro 2012 winners.

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Euro 2012 Semi final 2: Germany vs Italy pre match prediction

After watching Italy labor against England, and have to play extra time, this is a stone cold lock – Germany wins this semi final easily.  Everyone has a chance when you play a match at this level.  However, this is as certain an outcome as there has been in the knockout stage – even more than Germany beating Greece.  The only event that could derail a German victory is Neuer or one of the defenders getting a red card while giving up a penalty to Italy.

Why Italy Will Win

  1. Gigi Buffon has the greatest game any Italian goalie has ever had.
  2. Coach Low decides to do something unconventional up front and doesn’t start his top three of Gomez, Muller and Podolski.
  3. Italy usually beats Germany in major tournaments and usually wins in semi finals.
  4. Germany gives Pirlo too much time on the ball and doesn’t put him under enough pressure when he is on defense.

Why Germany will win

  1. Two extra days of rest and 30 minutes less of high stress extra time running.  Also, Muller, Gomez and Podolski didn’t even play half of the quarterfinal against Greece so they are going to be fresh.
  2. They’ve beaten every one else so far and Italy doesn’t look that great.
  3. Ozil, Muller and Podolski will not give Pirlo a free pass when Germany has the ball.  They will expose his lack of pace on defense and the space behind him is going to be gobbled up by Ozil.  It’s the reason Milan got rid of him after Manchester United exposed his liabilities so adroitly a couple of years ago.  The German midfield will not let Italy have any time on the ball and by the 60 minute mark, fatigue will set in and the Italians will struggle.
  4. While Badstuber hasn’t been particularly great, Hummels, Lahm and Neuer have played well enough to corral Cassano and Balotelli.

Pre match prediction:  Germany 2 Italy 0

Muller hasn’t scored yet.  That will change.  Gomez will add a second.  See you in the finals Spain.

 

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Euro 2012 QF 4: England vs Italy pre-match predictions

Pirlo vs Gerrard.  Whoever plays better comes away with the win.

Why England will win

  1. If Roy Hodgson plays Carroll with Rooney, Italy will have a tough time keeping him from scoring.  Chiellini is out and so they might have to go back to a back three.  Do you really think Barzagli or De Rossi can match up with Carroll in the center of the box?  If Carroll gets service from Milner, Gerrard, Walcott or Ashley Young (if he’s healthy enough to play), it will be a long day for Italy.
  2. It just feels like this is England’s time.  They have played defensive against France, offensive against Sweden and lucky against Ukraine.  Rooney’s back and he scored even though he didn’t have a particularly good game.  Welbeck and Walcott had wonder goals.  They have speed on the wings.  The loss of Cahill, Barry and Lampard hasn’t hurt them yet.  Low expectations.  All of this points to England getting the breaks it needs.
  3. With Lampard out, there is no question how Gerrard needs to play.  And how he’s playing.  His crossing, attitude and effort have been perfect.  All he needs is to score on a free kick or penalty and his confidence will be sky high.  He will impose himself physically on Italy’s midfield and that’s why England will win.
  4. Hodgson’s knows how to prepare this team to play against an Italian team.  He coached Inter Milan in Serie A and knows how to insert a pragmatic game plan.

Why Italy will win

  1. Gianluigi Buffon.  World Cup 2006.  All Italy ever needed to do was get to penalties and they knew Buffon would win it for them.  It worked against Australia and then against France in the finals.  If this gets to penalty kicks – and that is a very real possibility here – are you going to bet on England (the team that never seems to win on penalty kicks backstopped by Hart, the youngest goalkeeper left standing in the tournament) or Buffon with Pirlo and De Rossi still there for the successful penalty kick takers in 2006?
  2. They know how to win these types of knockout games.  They’ve done it so many times before.
  3. Cassano and Di Natale have been lively.  But Mario Balotelli could be the game changer.  He obviously knows how to go against Lescott and Hart from practicing with them daily at Manchester City.  This could be his shining moment for Italy.  He is one of the most talented players there is and the game seems effortless to him.
  4. The pressure is going to start to build for England and now they are going to have to take the game to the other team, something they haven’t had to do this this tournament.  It’s more like the usual England, but not the role England has had to play at Euro 2012.

Pre-game prediction: England 2 Italy 1

It’s going to be hard to score two goals against Buffon.  So the 2 for England may be in the form of the “goal” you get when you win on penalties.  I would bet on Carroll, Terry or Lescott to score aerially against Italy off a dead ball.  Marchisio will finally come good and score on Sunday.  I know I said Buffon is tough to beat in penalty kicks, but Spain did it and so can England.  It’s time.

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Euro 2012 Match 13: Italy vs Croatia pre-game prediction

Ireland made Croatia look better than they really are.  That will change against Italy.  While Croatia have traditionally done well against Italy, and their strikers are in great form with both Jelavic and Mandzukic scoring against Ireland, tomorrow will be different.

The Italian midfield will not allow Modric any space to make plays and control the tempo.  Cassano and Di Natale were very clever in their movement against Spain and should have the same success against Croatia.

Pre-game prediction:  Italy 1 Croatia 0

Cassano or Marchisio to score for Italy.

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Euro 2012 Match 5: Spain vs Italy pre-game predictions

If Germany vs Portugal was supposed to be THE match everyone wanted to see, Spain vs Italy is the third most anticipated match after France vs England.  Everyone is intrigued to see if Spain can overcome the loss of Villa and Puyol and use their experience at winning the last two major international tournaments to overcome their complacency at having done so.  The other part of the intrigue – which Italy will show up?  Will the match fixing scandal in Italy distract or incentivize this squad?  We just want the real Slim Shady to please stand up.

Why Italy will win

  1. Buffon and catenaccio wil shut down Spain’s one touch, quick passing, possession based game.
  2. Pirlo is still the master at controlling the game from his deep midfield position and De Rossi’s versatility will provide steel either in central defense or further up the midfield.
  3. Mario Balotelli and Sebastian Giovinco complement the more mature striking skills of Di Natale and Cassano.  They are all competent and skilled enough to take advantage of the uncertainty in the center of the Spanish defense to get a goal and leave it up to the defense to hold Spain at bay.
  4. Spain hasn’t quite figured out whether they can trust Torres or Llorente to get the key goals that Villa used to get.  Additionally, Xavi and Iniesta are a bit off form relative to their past club seasons.

Why Spain will win

  1. Italy has had a terrible pre-tournament spell with the scandal and a thumping 3-0 loss to Russia the lowlights.  The manner in which they gave up the goals to Russia highlights the fact that this is an unsettled Italian defense that cannot be counted on.
  2. Other than Puyol, Villa and Capdevila, the rest of the 2010 World Cup winning squad is here.
  3. The midfield which powers their tiki taka style goes eight deep, is the best in the world and has regained Cazorla who missed the 2010 World Cup due to injury.
  4. Spain knows they can’t start slow – they have learned their lesson from losing to Switzerland in the last World Cup.
  5. Fernando Llorente had a great season and Torres’ confidence level is rising following a horrendous season at Chelsea.  The two of them along with Negredo, Pedro and Navas can replace Villa’s goals.

Pre-match prediction: Spain 1 Italy 0

Spain will score a goal in the second half and hold Italy off.  Look for one of the midfielders to score – my money is on Xavi or Iniesta.

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Italy v Spain – post match

Back in business. At least one half of my pre tournament final pairing is still alive with Spain coming through against Italy. This was a toss up – either side could have and should have won it. With that said, Spain deserved to win for a few reasons. They were the aggressors during the game and were looking to actively score whereas the Italians resorted to their tried and trusted catenaccio. That works when Paolo Rossi, Roberto Baggio or even Totti is your striker. Not so when Toni can’t score, Cassano is tricky only in the middle of the field and Del Piero is given only 15 minutes to do so. It was left to Camoranesi to almost score for the Italians. Except that Casillas is the king of the foot save given how much improvisation he has to do when keeping goal for Real Madrid. Torres and Villa toiled without reward and the Italian defense were great. I didn’t think they would be able to keep them out with the makeshift central pairing, but they were solid. No clean looks.

Aragones, you are so lucky. Spain should have lost this game based on the moves you made. But, even a broken clock is right twice a day. Hopefully, you still have one more to go. You started Iniesta and Xavi together. Mistake. At least, you had the guts to correct the error and bring on Cesc and Cazorla (that man had the worst body language going into the penalty) in a double switch. I think you should have only taken Iniesta off. Xavi and Cesc would have been more effective at a time when you needed more passers on the field. Silva did have a decent game, but I just can’t get excited about a player who absolutely refuses to use his other foot. If he had used his right foot, he could have put at least two more clean shots on goal. Finally, the biggest gamble came off for you, but it just doesn’t make sense. Cesc supposedly hasn’t taken a competitive penalty since he was 15! You make him take the final penalty because you “felt he would score.” Unbelievable. What if he had to score without Casillas having saved Di Natale’s prior penalty? I knew Buffon was going to get one save. I just didn’t know whether Casillas could save two. Poor De Rossi has now missed two critical penalties following his Champions League miss against Man U. But at least he scored a penalty in the World Cup final. Di Natale has had a miserable Euro 2008 and completed it with a weak penalty that Casillas easily saved. Cesc, Wenger is going to be happy because this is really going to help you in your career. That’s a lot of pressure to put one away under – especially when you are facing the best goalkeeper in the world. Well done son.

Pre-game prediction: Spain 2 Italy 1

Result: Spain 0 Italy 0 (Spain wins 4-2 on penalties)

Ven a España. Приходите на Россию (that’s “Come On Russia” for you non-Cyrillic types). Kommen Sie in Deutschland. sahneye çıkmak turkiye. A respite before Wednesday and Thursday’s games…

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Spain v Italy – pre game prediction

No Pirlo. Much as I like Aquilani, he’s a different kind of player. Maybe the way to make up for Pirlo is to start the entire Roma midfield and have De Rossi and Perrotta along with Aquilani to support a threesome of Toni, Del Piero/Cassano (I prefer Del Piero in this game) and Camoranesi. That should give Italy enough bodies in midfield and a set of younger, more dynamic midfielders who have had a good season in Serie A. All this to say that that is the only way Italy are going to be able to beat Spain. Jam up the middle of the park, play Italian catenaccio football and hope for Toni to convert a header off a deadball situation. The weakness of the Spanish team is the center of defense where Marchena and Puyol (or Albiol if Puyol is still out injured) cannot match up with Toni. I give the Italians a 30% chance of winning – and given my predictive powers in the quarters, that would guarantee them a spot in the semi final.

Spain should just continue doing what they have been doing. Dominate ball possession and rely on Torres and Villa to score goals. Italy’s defense is uncharacteristically weak – Panucci (the usual right back) is the leader in the middle and plays with Chiellini, the lowest ranked central defender in the squad (Materazzi, Cannavaro and Barzagli are all injured). Grosso is good at left back, but more known for going forward, and Zambrotta has had an average tournament. Unfortunately, for Spain, they are backed up by Buffon. If I were Arragones, I would not start Xavi and Iniesta together. I would have Senna, Cesc, Xabi Alonso and Xavi to go with Torres and Villa up front. Drop Silva and Iniesta. Xabi and Senna are good holding midfielders and will counter the Italian midfield, while Cesc is a very tough two way player and will support them at the defensive end. Cesc, Xavi and Xabi are all great passers and you are going to need all of them so the Italians can’t focus on shutting Xavi down. Silva hasn’t done much in this tournament. If you are behind, then bring on Iniesta and Silva, but otherwise, go with this lineup.

Pre-game prediction: Spain 2 Italy 1

It’s time for Torres to show the world what he has learned in England and impose himself physically on the Italian defense…

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