Posts Tagged ‘ Vincente Del Bosque ’

Spain vs Italy – A Battle of the Titans

So it happened, perhaps not quite like many would have predicted but the almost inevitable happened – Spain beat Portugal and now must face off against Italy in Sunday’s eagerly anticipated Euro 2012 final. Undoubtedly it will be a tough match. Italy have already proven they can match Spain blow for blow with their 1-1 draw against the current holders in the group stage. Spain, like Barcelona are the golden boys of football today. Their passing game, footballing brain and build-up play is touted as how the beautiful game should be played. Unsurprising, really, when you consider how many of the players on the national side have come through Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy, who have had the tiki taka style of football imprinted on their brains from a young age. They’ve already won the European Championship back in 2008 courtesy of a 33rd minute goal from Fernando Torres, ensuring a 1-0 victory over Germany. But can they retain the trophy they already have one hand on?

Spain are an excellent side, like Barcelona, there’s no doubt about it. In Iniesta and Xavi they possess the greatest two midfielders of the present day, supplemented by the forces of Xabi Alonso, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique and the solid form of Madrid stopper, Iker Casillas. Ever since their elimination from the World Cup of 2006, they began to employ the tiki-taka style, an upgrade of the Dutch total football system, characterised by short passing and plenty of movement around the pitch, complemented with extended possession of the ball. And it has clearly worked. The first tournament following the disappointing World Cup was Euro 2008. Spain won each match of the group stage, went on to claim the trophy and were the highest scoring team, while David Villa took the gong for top scorer.

But they have their flaws too. Tika-taka may sometimes be breath-taking to watch but unless it’s going somewhere then it is somewhat redundant. Ugly football that wins games is more useful than entertaining play that comes up short. We saw this on Wednesday night when the Spanish faced off against Portugal in the semi-finals. Head to head, Spain had the better players, while for Portugal only three players attempted to stand out – Ronaldo, Nani and Fabio Coentrao storming up the wing. But Spain were sloppy and certainly not their usual selves. Several passes went astray, the vision and touch seemed to be lacking and Portugal really should have taken their chance to knock their neighbours out. Spain slowed the pace of their game right down, passing, passing, passing, with the occasional strike on goal. A David Silva move highlights the problems their mentality sometimes brings, and something we have seen on more than one occasion. On the edge of the box in the first half, Silva had the ball on his foot, with the space to shoot at goal, a position he has been in and scored from many a time. Instead, he passed the ball off, and the move petered out. This shows the need for a strong striker up front for Spain, a real presence at the top, a Wayne Rooney, a Didier Drogba. Spain do have forwards, Fernando Torres (who hasn’t exactly been at his best of late), Alvaro Negredo (disappointed thus far) and the skilful Pedro Rodriguez who still has things to learn and who doesn’t always appear supremely confident on the ball. And anyway, Spain prefer to stock the centre and top of the pitch with midfielders anyway. At times in the match against Portugal there were swathes of spaces in front of the Portugal goal, devoid of any red shirts. Spain’s use of the ‘false number 9’, a supposed striker who in reality drops deeper into midfield, usually in the guise of Cesc Fabregas has indeed worked previously. Against France in the quarter finals last Saturday evening it was midfielder Xabi Alonso who grabbed a brace for his country, although it was Florent Malouda and his utter failure to track back which led to the opener, while a fairly soft penalty handed Alonso the chance to net a second, which he duly did. But even the masters of this passing game, Barcelona, utilise strikers up front, to get into the spaces, to draw back defenders or to grab goals in and around the box – David Villa has and will again, Alexis Sanchez who fills in for him while he recovers, the youngster Pedro and last but certainly not least, the unpredictable and supremely talented Lionel Messi.

It will be interesting to see how they come out and play on Sunday. Italy are going to come to win the game and the Championship and will surely be spurred on, both by their own win over Germany and the protracted affair that eventually saw Spain triumph over Portugal, by no means comfortably. Who will win? Italy seem to be riding high at present, almost matching the intricacy of Spain in some of their play. Pirlo works a similar brand of magic to that of Xavi and Iniesta while up front Mario Balotelli is proving himself worthy. And while many in the media will rave about Spain, their deft passing game, their vision, the pedigree of their players, my money is on the Italians.

Euro 2012-The Favourites

Euro 2012 is almost upon us. Over 24 days, 16 teams will play 31 games in eight stadiums to earn the right to lift the European Championship Trophy. Over the duration of the tournament, upsets will occur, incidents will happen, controversy is expected, the top attacking players in European Football will go against the top defenders, but only one team will win. Here Irish News Review assesses our top three contenders for the Henri Delaunay trophy.

Spain: 

The first to be looked at and heavy favourites, as expected are Spain. The reigning European and World champions go into this tournament with heavy expectations on their shoulders. Despite missing the injured Barcelona duo Carles Puyol and David Villa, the Spanish squad still contain an exceptional number of talent such as Iker Casillas, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Xabi Alonso, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, David Silva, Juan Mata, Fernando Llorente and Fernando Torres at their disposal. To say they have the most talented squad would be an understatement.

They have a difficult group on paper, Italy, Croatia and the Republic of Ireland should prove difficult opposition, but Spain having been in this position and come out on top twice, should have more than enough to win the group. The players will expect to be playing teams who keep ten men behind the ball and Euro 2012 should be no different. Both Italy and the Republic of Ireland have defensive mentalities and will attempt to stifle Spain in those games. Even Croatia, normally at team of an attacking nature will surely adopt a more defensive approach when going up against the number one team in the world.

The Spanish nation as well as the players and staff will be expecting a third international trophy in a row; it would take an exceptional team on top of their game to beat the Spanish. Bet against them at your Peril.

Holland: 

The Dutch had their hearts broken two years ago in South Africa, when a late Andres Iniesta goal handed Spain the world Cup at the expense of Holland, leaving the Dutch without an International trophy since 1988. Like Spain they have a number of extremely talented players including Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Rafael Van der Vaart, Klass-Jan Huntelaar, Dirk Kuyt and Robin Van Persie. Where Holland struggle and where coach Bert Van Marwijk will need to be at his best is turning what is normally a group of individuals into a team. He succeeded at the World Cup, but not without a price, sacrificing their normal attacking football style for a more defensive approach and despite it getting them to the final, they were criticised.

Holland are faced with the most difficult group in the competition, the “group of death” along with Germany, Portugal and Denmark. Despite the obvious difficulties of the group Holland should overcome Denmark and Portugal and then tussle with Germany for position of group winner. It will of course depend on the form of their attacking players and whether they can duplicate their performances of two years previously, but if Van Marwijk can combine their toughness of 2010 with a little more attacking freedom this time around then Holland more than capable of going all the way.

Holland have a lot to prove in international tournaments. With the exception of 1988, the country that gave us total football have usually been the bridesmaid rather than the bride. This squad will be determined to erase the World Cup Final, but can they?

Germany: 

Germany were the surprise package in South Africa in 2010, Joachim Loew had selected a very young side full of potential, who combined and very attack minded philosophy with German efficiency to great effect. Two years later the surprise factor may be gone, but the players in that young German side have evolved into very good players in their own right. Players such as Mezut Ozil, Thomas Muller, Manuel Neuer and Sami Khedira excelled at the World Cup and have established themselves in the first 11 because of it. Those four combined with Lukas Podolski, Bastien Schweinsteiger, Phillip Lahm, Mario Gomez, veteran striker Miroslav Klose and new additions such as Mats Hummels and Mario Gotze make Germany one of the clear favourites for Euro 2012.

Germany joins Holland, Portugal and Denmark in the Euro 2012 “group of death”. Given the quality the Germans posses and their penchant for tournament football, it is fully expected that they will get out of the group.  The only question is in what position. The key fixture in Group B takes place on June 13th when Germany face Holland in the game that more then likely decide the outcome of the group as a whole and will more then likely avoid Spain until the final. Once out of the group, it will be fully expected that Germany will get to at least the semi-finals if not the final itself.

If history has showed anything, it’s you never right off the Germans. The longest they have gone without a trophy is 20 years; it has been 16 years since they last won in 1996. It is doubtful they will have to wait much longer.

Euro 2012 Group Preview

Euro 2012 kicks off on Friday when hosts Poland play Greece in Warsaw. The final will take place 22 days later on 1 July on the Olympic Stadium in Kiev.

Sixteen teams will take part in the tournament, and John Hislop takes a look at four groups and some of the players to watch out for.

Group A

This could be seen as the most open of the four groups, with Dick Advocaat’s Russia favourites to progress. They reached the semi-finals four year ago and most of that team remain, and star player Andrey Arshavin is back on top form after his loan spell with former club Zenit St Petersburg. Second place is anybody’s guess, with hosts Poland determined to reward their long suffering fans who are desperate to see a return to the glory days of the seventies. This squad includes a trio from the Bundesliga double winners, Borussia Dortmund, Robert Lewandowski, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Lukasz Piszczek. Much is expected of Lewandowski in particular who is attracting the attention of Manchester United amongst others. Euro 2004 champions Greece will have something to say about that though, having qualified without losing a game.Panathinaikos midfielder Sotiris Ninis who is also linked with United carries a goal threat, and no-one should underestimate the Czech Republic who saw off the Scots in the qualifying campaign. Arsenal midfielder Tomas Rosicky hopes to continue his end of season form.

Group B

Although the Irish might disagree, this group has been assigned the ‘Group of Death’ tag. Germany start favourites despite a 16 year drought, and the experience gained in South Africa will have done their young stars no harm. Real Madrid star Mesut Ozil hopes to continue where he left off two years ago. The Dutch will be waiting for any slip up after ditching their total football philosophy, and scoring 37 goals in ten qualifying games cannot be ignored. Great things are expected from England’s Player of the Year Robin van Persie who couldn’t stop scoring last term. Portugal, who only qualified via a playoff victory, will need Real Madrid favourite Cristiano Ronaldo to be in top form to stand any chance while Denmark with Arsenal’s Nicklas Bendtner will be determined to show what he can do with his contract at the Emirates up this summer.

Group C

World Cup winners and Euro 2008 champions Spain are hot favourites to carry on where they left off two years ago, and manager Vincente Del Bosque is determined to become only the second manager in history to win both tournaments, whilst Barcelona superstar Andres Iniesta will be a handful for any opponents. Italy, who went out of the World Cup in the group stages two years ago, have dismantled their squad and  replaced many of the old hands with younger players although Juventus midfielder Andrea Pirlo’s experience could prove vital. Liam Brady believes that Croatia could be the dark horses for the actual championship and Spurs star Luka Modric who has hinted that he may leave White Hart Lane will be keen to put himself in the shop window. Never write off the Irish however who always enjoy the big occasion and normally punch well above their weight. Manager Giovanni Trapattoni has a wealth of experience with 10 league championships in four countries, whilst the main goal threat comes from Robbie Keane.

Group D

France are slight favourites in this group with manager Laurent Blanc having united the squad which left South Africa divided under previous boss Raymond Domench. Real Madrid star Karim Benzema is one to watch. For a change, the English media have not already claimed the championship, and the reaction to new manager Roy Hodgson has been underwhelming to say the least. Injuries to key players and star man Wayne Rooney’s suspension have not helped, and his failure to bring back Rio Ferdinand following the injury to Gary Cahill could come back to bite him if results do not go their way. Ukraine are a shadow of the side which did so well in the World Cup in 2006, and the expectancy of the home support could either inspire or otherwise. Andre Shevchenko remains the main goal threat. Not much is expected of Sweden although their 3-2 victory over Holland in the qualifiers demonstrates that they will be no pushovers. AC Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has proved himself at the highest level, and the Swede’s hopes rest with him.

Spotlight On Spain

Ireland’s second game at Euro 2012 is against the current World and European champions, Spain. The game takes place on the 14th June in Gdansk and is seen as a daunting task for Ireland with Spain going into this tournament as favourites to regain their European title. Spain have the chance to be the first team in international football to win three tournaments in a row and nobody would put it past them with the extremely talented group of players they have at their disposal. 

Vincente Del Bosque leads his team into this tournament after easing through qualifying, winning all eight of their games. The Spaniards have won 14 consecutive competitive games in a row which is a joint world record. Their playing style remains the same attacking brand of football that won them their last two trophies and it is an extremely difficult style for some teams to deal with. Many people could be of the opinion that the Barcelona contingent amongst the squad will want to win this tournament even more after a relatively disappointing season by their standards. 

The Barcelona contingent in the Spain squad, however, has been cut by two members due to the absence of their captain Carles Puyol and goal scorer supreme David Villa. Puyol, a hugely influential leader, misses out after undergoing knee surgery and his presence will be missed in the Spanish camp. Villa, who became Spain’s all time record goal scorer during qualifying will not be able to add to his impressive tally this summer. The striker suffered a broken tibia during the Club World Cup in December and failed in his battle to be fit in time to be added to the 23-man squad. 

Previous Meetings: The last time the two sides met was at the 2002 World Cup when Spain knocked Ireland out on penalties in the last sixteen. In twenty-four previous meetings between the two teams, Ireland have only won four times with the Spaniards winning on thirteen occasions and seven games being drawn. Ireland will hope to have more success in their twenty-fifth meeting with Spain and cause an upset which is not unusual for an Irish team to do. 

Strengths: Spain’s style of football is easy on the eye and can prove very hard to deal with it. Their passing game can tire teams out and leads to so many chances. Spain go into this tournament as champions and have proven experience of winning big tournaments. 

Weaknesses: The omission of two key players in the shape of Carles Puyol and David Villa. The Barcelona duo were vital to Spain winning Euro 2008 and the World Cup in 2010. Fernando Torres’ form is something of a worry for Vincente Del Bosque who will hope the Chelsea striker isn’t there to make up the numbers. His form has improved somewhat lately but he seems to be a shadow of the player who scored the winner against Germany in the Euro 2008 final. 

Key Player : Xavi 

Xavi has the ability to control any game with his endless supply of unbelievably accurate passes. The Barcelona man has seemed to get better with age and will again play a pivotal role in Spain’s quest to regain their European crown. He is a strikers dream to play with as he can find space anywhere and create chances that not many other players could see. Xavi was named as player of the tournament at Euro 2008 and is considered as one of Spain’s greatest ever players.

By Andrew Harte