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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 1: Spain vs Portugal pre game predictions

My gut tells me this is the match Spain will lose.  Portugal is primed for the upset.  Portugal has the offensive and defensive stars and a competent midfield.  Unlike Spain, they have come through a very tough group stage.  Ronaldo is in form.  Spain, regardless of what Silva says, is not as good as the prior versions.  I really am hoping Spain go a goal down so we can see what they are really made of.  Who will be Spain’s Messi/Ronaldo/Villa if they have to claw their way back?

Why Portugal will win

  1. Portugal’s midfield is well balanced with a holding midfielder in Veloso, the box-to-box work rate of Meireles and the creativity of Moutinho – all played a part in setting up Ronaldo’s winning goal against the Czechs.  They can keep possession well enough against Spain’s midfield press.  Hopefully Bento doesn’t try to change the lineup and remove the striker for an extra midfielder.
  2. Ronaldo is due to have a big game against Real Barspana.  He buried his Barca demons during his last match at the Nou Camp and you know he wants to pay Spain back for World Cup 2010.  He will dominate Arbeloa.  Yes, Arbeloa knows Ronaldo from practicing every day at Real Madrid – as do Sergio Ramos and Xabi who will help Arbeloa out on Spain’s right side.  However, Ronaldo knows those three and Iker Casillas also.  He will relish going against them …and Pique.  Why?  Because this time, Spain doesn’t have Puyol to bail them out.  The added benefit of having Coentrao behind Ronaldo is that Busquets will have to shade more to the right, leaving Alba one on one with Nani.  Alba has shown good speed, but Nani’s trickery is cause for concern.  The big questions for Portugal are which of Almeida or Oliveira start up front, and can either take advantage of the service from the wing?  My money would be on the bigger and more experienced Almeida who can give Ramos and Pique fits in the air.
  3. Pepe and Alves have been solid on the ground.  In the air is where Portugal has had problems against Mario Gomez and Bendtner.  Spain doesn’t have an aerial threat, notwithstanding Xabi’s standing header.
  4. I will repeat what I wrote from the France match – Spain is not the usual Spain.  Puyol and Villa’s absence has hurt them at critical positions and Xavi is not playing at his normal high level.  Everything is just a little off for the Spaniards and there is unease about how well Ramos and Pique will perform together in the middle if they are put under real pressure.  Their dislike of each other is common knowledge and the last thing Spain needs at the knockout stage.  Yes, they dominated France, but that was a function of the lineup France put out there.  However, who, besides Ireland, has Spain blown away in this tournament?  No one.  If you sit back, play defensively and Spain will wear you down.  Portugal will not make that mistake.  The only team that has kept Portugal off the board in this tournament is Germany – and that took major heroics at the end of the game to do so.  Portugal will show Spain the toughest test to date and if it stays close late the pressure, and two fewer days of rest, will tell on Spain.

Why Spain will win

  1. Spain seemed a lot more assured against France.  They were never really threatened and adequately defended the threat of Ronaldo Light – Ribery.  If Spain dominates the ball, and more importantly eliminate any real pressure on Casillas, Ronaldo will get frustrated, drop deeper and into the middle to get the ball, which means he then has a longer way to go to score.  That will play into Spain’s hands.  It has been the traditional way Barca have stopped Ronaldo.
  2. Ramos and Pique haven’t really been tested and haven’t really missed having Puyol.  The midfield’s possession game has alleviated any real pressure and if Portugal plays three in midfield (while Portugal might get more of the ball than most), they will not be able to keep sustained pressure with two offensive minded wings who need good, wide service to inflict any real damage on Spain.
  3. Ronaldo hasn’t played as well as everybody thinks he has.  Trust me.  I’ve seen enough of Ronaldo over the last eight years.  He really had one very dominating game – against the Czechs who gave him too much space and time.  His first finish against Holland wasn’t clean – and he missed another sitter very similar to the one he put away for the second.  He will not get that much time and space against Spain, who have enough bodies to send at him to neutralize his open field speed advantage.  Slow Ronaldo down and where is the goal going to come from?  Portugal will have to rely on a dead ball to get a score.
  4. Iniesta.  Pereira has had a good tournament, but he is going to struggle against Iniesta.  That pulls Pepe out of position to help.  Can Xavi and Cesc make them pay?

Pre-match prediction: Spain 1 Portugal 0

My gut is one thing – and I hope it’s right because Germany vs Portugal would be a much better final than a repeat of Euro 2008.  That said, my head says the Spanish midfield will be a bit too much and will wear Portugal down.  If Portugal doesn’t get a goal from open play, Spain will win this match.  Coentrao’s matchup against Silva and/or Cesc will determine the outcome of this game.  David Silva to score.

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Euro 2012 QF 3: Spain vs France pre match predictions

Prevailing logic says that France’s loss to Sweden and their ensuing internal arguments will result in the usual result – France getting summarily eliminated from a major tournament.  Normally I’d subscribe to that notion.  However, Spain hasn’t been special and France made lineup changes that didn’t work out, so look for Blance to go back to a more familiar lineup when the game kicks off tomorrow.  Spain should be slightly favored but a French upset, while not probable, would be only a mild surprise.  Spain be hoping this match doesn’t go to extra time – that will hurt them against the well rested Portugese.  France will be hoping for penalties.

Why France will win

  1. Menez and Cabaye will re-enter the lineup replacing Ben Arfa and possibly M’Vila or Diarra.  That will provide more offense for France, especially from Menez who was very lively against Ukraine in the group stage.  If he has a good game, it will force Jordi Alba to stay back and help even out the imbalance in midfield that any team playing Spain has to face.
  2. Ribery will dominate Arbeloa.  Puyol’s absence has moved Ramos to central defense from the right back slot and his replacement, Alvaro Arbeloa, is competent but slow.  Ribery has to have a big game for France to have a chance and he is likely to enjoy going against Arbeloa.  Just like Menez, if Ribery has a good game, it will force Silva to drop back to help on defense, thus evening numbers in midfield.
  3. Benzema has assisted on the majority of the French goals, but has yet to get on the scoresheet.  It bodes well for France as he goes against a familiar defense in his club teammates Arbeloa, Ramos and Casillas.  The Benz is due.
  4. Spain is not the usual Spain.  Puyol and Villa’s absence has hurt them at critical positions and Xavi is not playing at his normal high level.  Everything is just a little off for the Spaniards and there is unease about how well Ramos and Pique will perform together in the middle if they are put under real pressure.  Their dislike of each other is common knowledge and the last thing Spain needs at the knockout stage.

Why Spain will win

  1. France’s undefeated run is over, there is infighting and neither Ribery nor Benzema have scored at Euro 2012.  That is a not a great recipe for success at this stage.  Spain is seasoned, used to winning and the manner in which they ground out their World Cup win will help them as they get to the business end of this tournament.
  2. Mexes is suspended which probably means that Koscielny gets the start.  While Mexes didn’t cover himself with glory against Sweden, and Koscielny does have more pace and has played well against Messi and Barcelona the last few times they have met in the Champions League, starting at center back in a tournament for the first time in a quarterfinal match against the defending World and European champions is a daunting task for Koscielny.  He is prone to making errors and there is a high likelihood that happens again today.
  3. Spain’s midfield domination will result in France struggling to score.  Cabaye or M’Vila have to have huge games in order for Nasri, Ribery, Benzema and Menez to get enough touches to score.  That will be tough.  Add in the fact that France doesn’t really have aerial threats to score off of dead balls and it just means they will have to have a lot of luck to beat Spain.
  4. Iniesta.  And Cesc.  Iniesta has been in great form and Debuchy will struggle to stay with him.  Cesc continues to do what he has done so well for Barcelona this past season – score off of well timed late runs into space behind the defense.  That should be enough to Spain to win this match.

Pre-match prediction: Spain 1 France 0

Spain will score a goal in the second half and hold France off.  Iniesta or Cesc to score for Spain.

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Euro 2012 Matches 21 and 22: Italy vs Ireland, Spain vs Croatia pre-game predictions

Spain is not going to go into the match looking for a draw.  Russia got knocked out and Germany was within an inch of going down 2-1 and being knocked out late in the second half.  If Croatia beat Spain and Italy beats Ireland, Spain will get eliminated.  Trying for a 2-2 draw is like asking two NFL teams to try to engineer the game to go to overtime and trust the other team not to score a late field goal before the whistle blows.  Literally impossible to do.

Spain will beat Croatia.  Stone cold lock.  I know Italy couldn’t do it, but Spain is going to come on strong now.  They finally have Torres scoring and Xavi seemed to have regained some energy in the last game.  If I were del Bosque, I would insert Cesc in the lineup instead of Xabi.  Mandzukic has been big for Croatia, but this is the game for Jelavic to step up.  Corluka is also going to have to have a big game in order to keep Alba and Iniesta thinking about their defensive responsibilities instead of overloading the Croatia right wing.

Pre-game prediction: Spain 2 Croatia 1

Iniesta and Torres to score for Spain and Jelavic to score for Croatia.

Italy is going to struggle against Ireland.  It will be interesting to see how many opportunities Italy gets against Ireland as I would assume Trapattoni puts an extra midfielder in to clog up the middle and reduce Pirlo’s impact.  That said, Italy knows it has to win in order to go through.  It will be a tense encounter and I expect Italy to pull it out by a goal.

Pre-game prediction: Italy 2 Ireland 1

Di Natale and Marchisio to score for Italy and Dunne to pull one back for Ireland off a set piece.

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Euro 2012 Match 14: Spain vs Ireland pre-game predictions

A slow pitch and an unbalanced formation (no striker or speed on the wing) resulted in Spain’s poor performance against Italy.  That should change tomorrow.  Look for Torres to start instead of Xabi or Silva.  My preference would be for Spain to keep Busquets for his height on set pieces and start Torres ahead of Xabi.  Silva’s pace can work on the wing as a proxy for Navas’ speed.

Ireland were unlucky to give up two ricochet goals on a slick surface.  That said, not much will change against Spain who will deny them possession and time on the ball.  Their only hope will be from set pieces.

Pre-game prediction: Spain 2 Ireland 0

Cesc and Xavi to score for Spain.  Maybe Dunne can sneak one for Ireland.

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World Cup 2010: Pre-Cup prediction on who will win

No time to really sort this out.  There are less than 8 hours to go to kickoff.  And the crystal ball is looking murky.  So, lets do the whys and why nots for the favorites IMO.  I will update this after the first round, but let me not shy away from it right now.

Brazil:  They win because they are solid in the defensive half of the field and have depth.  Julio Cesar, 2 great right backs (they should play Dani Alves at left back just to get him on the field as he will be behind Maicon at right back),  Lucio, Juan and Luisao to play the middle, Melo at holding and Kaka, Robinho and Fabiano up front.  Also, they are the only ones who have won outside of their continent (apart from Argentina in Mexico which sort of doesn’t count as a really different continent) – in fact, they have won in North America (1994), Europe (1958) and Asia (2002).  Seems to make sense that they should win in Africa.  They won’t win because there is magic missing up front.  Efficiency is great, but you need some magic.  Kaka has not been fit all season.  Hard to get there at the World Cup.  Plus, its a hard road through Portugal, Ivory Coast and North Korea to start the tournament.  They should win the group but that’s a work out unlike for Spain and England.

Spain:  They win because they have the most talented passers and total football team.  Xavi, Iniesta, Cesc, Xabi – what a foursome of passers in midfield.  Then you have Silva, Pedro and Jesus Navas (the biggest key for Spain after Torres IMO because the Achilles heel for Spain is a lack of real speed) on the wings (though Iniesta could play down the left as well).  Finally, Iker in goal and Torres and Villa up front.  That’s a squad.  Why they don’t win – I don’t think their defense is good enough.  I know I identified it as an issue in the Euros and they made me eat my words (though I did pick them to win pre tournament), but I just don’t get comfort in Capdevilla at left back and Ramos goes AWOL every so often at right back.  Also, Cesc, Iniesta and Torres are coming off injuries that caused them to miss the end of the season and Xavi is carrying a calf injury according to Pep Guardiola.  Also, the USA showed how you beat Spain.  Send them to the wings and overpower the strikers when they are forced to cross the ball – press Xavi at the same time.  Navas’ speed on the wing helps and Torres seems to be coming along.  They also have a relatively easy group to work Cesc, Torres and Iniesta back into playing shape before the knockout round.  However, I am still uneasy.  A big miss is going to be Marcos Senna at holding mid.  So, I want to say Spain but I just hesitate.

Argentina:  They win because they probably have one of the best forward pools in the history of the World Cup.  Messi and Higuain led La Liga in scoring, Tevez was near the top in the EPL as was Milito.  And then there is Aguero and Di Maria.  Did I mention Messi?!  Decent first round group to warm up with.  Mascherano at holding is solid.  And I’ve always liked Veron’s touch though he is a bit slow.  Wish Diego had brought Zanetti and Cambiasso.  That’s a big mistake.  They don’t win because their defense is too slow and old.  Heinze, DiMichelis and Samuel are just not up to snuff.  And Brazil and Inter showed you how to stop Messi.  And then you have the craziness of Maradona.

Holland: The win because Robben and Sneijder are two of the five most in form players in the world (I’d put Messi, Ronaldo and Milito in that bracket as well) at the end of the club season.  Then there’s Robin van Persie who is fresh after missing most of the season.  Rafael vdv is in decent form as well.  Kuyt provides work rate and balance up front.  They don’t win because their defense and keeping is not up to snuff.  And they tend to run out of steam as tournaments progress.

England: They win because they are the second best team from top to bottom in terms of depth (after Brazil).  They have Rooney and great veterans in the spine of the team – James, Terry (too bad Rio’s out, but King and Upson are good), Gerrard, Lampard.  They have speed on the wings (Fabio should have included Walcott instead of SWP).  Great coach.  They haven’t lost a World Cup game in a while if you exclude penalty kick knockouts.  They don’t win because too much depends on Rooney, Glen Johnson is a terrible defensive right back and the holding midfielder position isn’t settled.  Also, the weight of expectations will become very heavy the further we get in the tournament.

These are the only real favorites in my opinion.  A dark horse is Portugal, but with Nani out, their chances dropped significantly.  Never count out Germany (but Ballack is a big miss and they seem a big young) or Italy (this is one of the worst teams they have fielded though) or one of the African countries.  I would have put Ivory Coast as the top African team, but even if Drogba plays (as it seems to indicate in the latest news), its hard to have a brand new coach and expect to win the World Cup.

Two big factors and then I’ll make my pre Cup prediction.

The ball: with the movement in the ball, free kicks and corners are going to be very important.  That makes Ronaldo, Dani Alves, Sneijder, Lampard and Xavi very dangerous.  It could be the difference between winning and losing the Cup.

History: No European team has won the World Cup outside of Europe.  Argentina and Brazil have won outside of their  continent.  Yes, it is winter in South Africa so the heat is not going to be as big a factor as it has been for tournaments outside of Europe in the past.

My pick: Brazil if they win their group.  Holland if Brazil doesn’t win their group.

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Barca v Arsenal – CL 2nd Leg

Barca wins.  That’s the easy part.  Except, I have a feeling this is not a foregone conclusion.  Here’s why its obvious:

1.  Arsenal’s personnel issues: No Cesc or Arshavin to attack and no Song or Gallas to defend.  That leaves Campbell at the center of defense playing his second game in three days.

2. Barca is playing at the Nou Camp

3. Barca has better depth to deal with its missing personnel:  Assume Messi starts.  Barca then has to pick two from Henry, Krkic, Iniesta (if he’s fit) and Pedro.  No problems really there.  Yes, Pique and Puyol are missing.  But they beat United with Puyol at right back and Yaya in the center with Pique and Sylvinho playing left back!  So,in the center and Abidal or Maxwell at left back.  You could also move Abidal to the middle and use Maxwell at left.  Shouldn’t be an issue.  Then you can play Sergio, Keita and maybe even Rafa Marquez as the defensive midfielders around Xavi.

That said, Arsenal have nothing to lose, are used to playing on a big field and have skillful players to make it happen.  The key is to keep it close.  If they can get to the half only 2-1 down, they have a great shot.  Rosicky, Denilson, Eboue, Walcott, Nasri behind Bendtner is pretty decent.  Eduardo off the bench if they need another goal late.  They have a shot.  However, lots have to go their way.  Absolutely can happen.  If Messi is kept quiet again, Barca will lose – you heard that here.

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