Well, I guess UEFA will need to evaluate their rest policy a little more thoroughly four years from now.
Italy had every excuse to whine and complain that they didn't have enough rest going into their semi-final with Germany. They didn't, yet the Azzurri took care of business. That argument was put to bed and everyone focused on a great game with Spain.
What UEFA needs to review is how Italy had to play Spain with La Roja's having 24 hours more rest than the Azzurri. What that led to was a series of 'unlucky' injuries from which Italy could not bounce back.
Italy was primed and ready for the game in every other way that mattered. Spain was focused on not repeating history by losing to Italy again like every Spanish team before them in a major tournament. Quite interesting was that we were talking five years earlier about how Spain was the greatest underachiever in football history. They had NEVER won a major title yet now they were poised to become the first nation to win three majors in a row! That makes them the greatest team the international scene has ever seen.
Both teams were focused when the game started and took it too each other. With Spain working hard during training on penalty kicks, I expected the game to be defensive. Boy was I wrong.
Spain decided to play with a 'false 9' set up again, placing Cesc Fåbregas back into the starting lineup. They pressed hard like they did in the last 15 minutes of the semifinals against Portugal. Except in this game, they did it from the start with fresh legs.
Spain pressed and pressed some more, squeezing passes in spaces a mouse would have found hard to fit through let alone a soccer ball. Their ability to create open spaces keeping the ball in their possession is phenomenal.
Fåbregas was on the right end one of those passes in the 13th minute and took full advantage of it. Andrés Iniesta threaded the ball outside of the right post about 10 yards out and then Fåbregas dribbled towards the goal. That made Italy's keep Gigi Buffon have to commit fully to stop him. That also made the goal wide open. It is the mission of possession teams to make the goalie have to make saves while moving. As soon as Buffon was committed, Fåbrebas played a 45 degree ball towards the penalty area where Spain's David Silva was coming in hard despite being marked well by Andrea Barzageli. If Fåbregas plays the ball to Silva's feet, Barzageli clears it. So, he played the ball high and Silva just had to tap the ball into an empty net. Outstanding. Spain up 1-0.
With teams like Italy, Brazil, and Spain, a 1-0 might as well be a 9-0 lead for the way they play defense and possess the ball offensively; it is almost impossible to beat them. It seemed that although the game was still early, Spain decided to protect their lead instead of going for another. That was Italy's cue to turn up the heat. The Azzurri continued to play their 4-4-2 with a diamond stagger in the midfield, having Pirlo run the show leading them in short-short-long pass scenerios. Italy kept the pressure on winning the possession battle. The truly unsung hero of the game was Iker Casillas, the Espana keeper who made save after save but still not breaking the will of the Italians - just yet.
Then the first nail goes into Italy's coffin. In the 21st minute, defensive standout Giorgio Chiellini wound up pulling a muscle and had to come out of the game. That never happened in the tournament and was the first of three signs that the Itallians were just physically not rested enough to play a team like Spain. Italy still kept up the pressure and Casillas continued to respond.
Cesare Prandelli, the manager of Italy, kept urging them on trying to equalize so they could rest, get their legs back and prepare for a wild finish. Cassano actually took a shot that went between not one, not two, but three Spaniard's legs to find that Casillas was in position just in case that would happen! In my whole life, I have ever seen the likes of either.
Shortly after, Mario Balotelli hit a ball over the crossbar when a few days earlier it would have been on target. Italy needed that ball to be on target for it was high enough that Casillas might have had a problem getting to it. All of those chances soon turned into regrets.
In the 40th minute, the world was given a demonstration of how the old 'give and go' combination of passes is still lethal. Spanish fullback Jordi Alba played what seemed to be a routine ball to one of Spain's six halfbacks, Xavi. Almost run like an American football 'go' route, Alba decided to streak past his midfielders and make a run at what seemed to be a stunned back line for Italy. Xavi played a perfect through ball to Alba that he was able get past Buffon. Spain 2 - Italy 0.... and with no strikers! That would be the equivalent of the Yankees beating the Red Sox 2-0 with nothing other than bunts!
Still, momentum usually sides with the team that scores the third goal in a match. Prandelli knew this and came out of the locker room with his other leading striker, Antonio Di Natale. Just like their first meeting three weeks ago , Di Natale was able to get a shot at goal within a minute of play! The difference this time was that he shot this one high over the crossbar. In the 50th minute, Di Natale kicked a ball so hard at Casillas, that the Spanish keeper decided to punch it since it could not be caught. It went back to Di Natale who shot it back to Casillas who gently absorbed the ball. What were the chances of that? Di Natale was in disbelief as Spain put the second nail into the Italian coffin.
Then the third nail came in the fact that Prandelli had to replace Montolivio for he just couldn't keep up the high pace Italy had to have in order to come back. The Itallian coach went again, as he did throughout the tournament, with Thiago Motta. Now Italy had no more subs they could use.
The final nail in the coffin came when, just minutes later, Motta went to the ground for he had a pulled hamstring. Now, the Azzurri would have to play a man down for over thirty minutes. Against other opponents, that may be accomplished but this was Spain. Prandelli shrugged his shoulders and he knew that it was over.
Imagine if they had the same amount of rest as Spain? Casillas stopped six wonderful shots on goal that would have gone in on perhaps even Buffon! Now, Prandelli was faced with playing 30 minutes of torturing football.
In the 74th minute, Spain boss Del Bosque put Fernando Torres in for what surely seemed to be his swan song. Torres had two goals to his credit and mathematically was in position still to win the Golden Boot. He also had a depleted Italian team in front of him, so he went to work. He got a through ball in the 84th minute that he scored in classic Torres style by kicking it under a late-rushing Buffon.
Six more minutes remained and Torres had to hustle. His teammates helped him along, too. In the 87th minute, Torres got the same through pass that he scored on three minutes earlier. This time, Buffon would have none of it. Torres then played a square ball to...who???...Juan Mata, who was put in so Del Bosque could honor Iniesta! Mata put the ball into the empty goal and then celebrated being part of history. That assist broke Germany's Mario Gomez's heart for now Torres would win the tiebreak and take home the Golden Boot over Gomez.
Wow! La Roja indeed, after being the biggest bridesmaids in the world has now become it's bride. The best team in the world ever...and they may not be done yet. See you in Brazil two years from now!
God Bless You All.
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