June 28, 2012
Italians should have Spain a little concerned
By MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency
The Germans didn't just get beat Thursday night.
They got Balotellied.
That, in itself, must come as a huge concern for Spanish coach Vicente Del Bosque, who undoubtedly was feverishly scribbling notes as Italian striker Mario Balotelli was crumbling Germany's aspirations for a Euro 2012 title with a pair of brilliant goals, the second arguably the best in the entire tournament.
Neither Del Bosque nor his players would ever admit being the slightest bit scared of the Italians. When you are one victory away from becoming the first side ever to capture three consecutive international tournaments, the Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup titles already tucked under your sombreros, there are not many things on a soccer pitch that give you angst.
But maybe, just maybe, there should be a tinge of fear in the Spanish camp concerning the suddenly sizzling Azzurri.
Heading into Sunday's titanic Euro 2012 final between Italy and Spain, a hugely attractive matchup featuring the winners of the past two World Cups respectively, Del Bosque knows his team can shut down some of the elite scorers in the game, having proven that by smothering Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo in Spain's semifinal victory (0-0, 4-2 in penalties) Wednesday in Donetsk.
Having said that, muzzling Balotelli and his Italian teammates is an entirely different problem indeed.
First off, Balotelli's supporting cast is much stronger than that of Ronaldo's Portugal, both mentally and physically. Ronaldo aside, not only is there more skill on the Italian side than that of Portugal, the Azzurri also have players on the roster who hoisted the World Cup six years ago on German soil.
They, like the Spanish, know what it takes to capture the sport's biggest prize on the sport's biggest stage.
In addition, because Ronaldo usually comes in from the left flank, the Spanish were able to keep him to the outside for much of the evening. That will be a much more difficult task against Balotelli, who showed the soccer world in Italy's 2-1 win over the Germans Thursday that he can create chaos by loitering inside the box.
His first goal against the Germans came on a perfect header that gave goalie Manuel Neuer absolutely no chance. The second was a rocket into the top corner, the type of goal that will be remembered for a long time to come.
Balotelli may be accurately construed as being looney tunes at times, but he answered the bell when it mattered most. Should he be motivated again (and with his enigmatic personality, you just never know), Spanish defenders such as Sergio Ramos will have their hands full.
Del Bosque also has issues up front, where his side had difficulty generating any type of threat against the Portuguese until extra time, when substitutes Cesc Fabregas and Pedro Rodriguez began waltzing down the left wing with style and passion that gave Pepe and his teammates fits.
"We have to be better," Del Bosque said, admitting the lack of offensive chances was a concern.
In reality, part of the problem was the starting lineup Del Bosque fielded, one which saw Fabregas and Fernando Torres sitting on the bench. If he thought they had struggles grinding out opportunities against Portugal, his team will not get a sniff against the stifling defence of Italy, especially if he opts once again to keep such offensive talent off the pitch.
Italy may have not come into the tournament with a lot of high expectations from those outside the locker room, but they opened up a lot of eyes in their 1-1 draw with the Spanish in their Group C opener June 10 in Poland.
The Italian attack made the Spanish look vulnerable at times, culminating in the opening goal by substitute Antonio Di Natale in the 60th minute. Only an equalizer by Fabregas salvaged a point for the Spanish, who watched their streak of 14 consecutive victories in competitive matches come to a halt by the Italians.
"We showed we're on Spain's level and that's where we started this run," Italy midfielder Claudio Marchisio said after sending the Germans home packing. "It's no longer a question of fear."
Not for the Italians.
But after watching the Azzurri's impressive performance Thursday, maybe there should be some in the minds of Del Bosque and his team.