June 30, 2012
Head and heart agree Italy will win
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency
There is no better feeling than when the heart and the head agree.
The two come together to say Italy will win its second European soccer championship Sunday in Kiev.
It is always difficult when a supporter of a particular soccer nation has to choose between using logic -- looking at both teams, their situations, how they are playing and then deciding who is going to win -- or picking the team you love.
If the heart and the head don't agree, it causes days of angst and nights without sleep.
There has been no angst and no sleepless nights, no self-flagellation and no denying the heart or the head.
Italy versus Spain on Sunday is a case of emotion and analysis coming together to form a succinct conclusion -- Italy will win.
Spain is the defending world and European champion. A win will make Spain the only country to have claimed three major titles in succession.
The Spanish won't be an easy team to defeat. But this is an Italian team that has followed a familiar blueprint to success. In the process, it has managed to add another page to the blueprint.
Italy came into this tournament as an unknown quantity. It made several changes to their squad so no one was certain just how well it would do -- as there was uncertainty about what Italy would do in the in the 1982 World Cup, or again in 2006. Italy responded by winning both.
This is familiar territory.
The blueprint has them starting slowly and continuing to get better as the tournament progresses. When Italy makes it to the second round, it is always dangerous.
That's the pattern followed here.
Italy usually rides a dominant player to title wins. In 2006, it was Fabio Cannavaro. Twenty-four years earlier, Paolo Rossi got the job done.
In 2012, it will be Andrea Pirlo.
But blueprint addition is very important to the Italians and its where their advantage lies against the Spanish.
Italy has the ability to attack, it has the ability to score, it has the ability to put other teams under constant pressure. If this was the Italian team of the 1990s playing Spain, the game would put everyone watching to sleep.
Spain would have passed the ball around the midfield waiting for the Italian defence to make a mistake. Italy would have waited for a Spanish slip so it could counterattack. And the fans would have woken up just in time for kicks from the penalty spot to decide the game.
Spain will try to play the same way Sunday. But Italy won't sit back.
If the Azzurri are true to their 2012 style, the same style that saw them dispatch the Germans so ruthlessly, they will pressure Spain. The Italians can afford to do this because they are strong defensively and in the midfield. As a result, they have no fear defending one-on-one.
When the Italians possess the ball, they will move forward quickly. Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio and their mates have scoring options with Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano up front.
There is one other thing that might come into play though and that's fatigue. Both teams have played a lot of games in a short period of time. Italy has several players who are hurt. Cassano is not fully fit after heart surgery and Pirlo is 33 years old. Adrenaline will have to carry some of these players.
Italy will score, of that I'm sure.
As for Spain, I'm not so sure.
Spain can play its possession game as long as it wants but it won't score unless players cut through the defence or go down the wings. Moving the ball across the field is not going to trouble the Italians.
Spain tied Italy 1-1 in the opening game of the tournament's group stage. Cesc Fabregas scored the Spanish equalizer when he slashed forward through the Italian defence. Spain hasn't done enough of that.
Spain had some other chances but couldn't score. Spain then blitzed the worse team in the tournament, Ireland, before needing an 88th minute goal to beat Croatia.
The Spanish defeated a demoralized, disinterested French side 2-0 and went to penalties after going goalless against Portugal.
If Spain has such trouble scoring against those teams, how will it score against a tough defensive team backed up by Gianluigi Buffon, the best goaltender in the tournament?
It's a question Spain will be unable to answer.
And that's why Italy will fly home as European champs.