The Italian resistance against the Spanish flair.
Could the Spaniards break down the Italian rearguard?
Well the surprise came from the Italians, not only in the formation, but in the way they played.
There was no ‘parking the bus’ as Mourinho once famously said. Infact the Azzurri went with a bold 3 at the back.
Spain on the other hand started without a centre forward!
An unbelievable decision when you consider the form of Llorente.
Spain are not Barcelona but Del Bosque, it seemed, wanted to prove that they can play that way.
Fabregas is a great player but he is no Messi and Spain simply lacked that pace and drive with the ball.
Iniesta tried on a few occasions and Silva also but it was far too infrequent.
Spain passed the ball 780 times compared to the Italians 426 with a successful pass rate of 88% for the Spaniards and 76% to that of Italy. However the most interesting fact is the where the passes went.
Spain had no pace to get beyond the Italian defence and Fabregas often came too deep and there was no one going the other way either through the middle or out wide from the full back positions.
The majority of the Spanish passes were played sideways, 421 of them, which never threatened the Italian defence and at times the back three of Italy were redundant.
Italy however were more incisive, they didn’t pass just for the sake of passing. They matched the Spanish for the short passes but when Spain grouped in the middle, Italy extended their passing range which did not allow the Spaniards to press quickly as they usually do.
Whilst I have heard that Balotelli played well, I have to disagree. I think Balotelli does not make runs quick enough for Pirlo to use his magical range of passing and I do not think they are on the same wavelength.
It is easy to say Di Natale should have started on the back of his goal.
However it is his selfless running and incisive movement that stretched the Spaniards. He is more of a team player than Balotelli.
He will make that selfless run of twenty yards and does not always stand there wanting the ball just to his feet and I think this is crucial to a player like Pirlo.
Balotelli has immense talent but I think he can best be used when the opposition is tiring, however Prandelli has to tell his player his movement has to be much more dynamic.
Spain have great technical players but it has been shown that so do Italy. I wrote an article titled ‘Have Italy lost the fear factor’. On this evidence I believe they fear no one because of the expression they showed in their play against the World and European champions.
Will other teams fear them?
I do believe they will because there is a toughness about their defending, a belief in each other and if they can just extend that belief and become more offensive, because they have the players without a shadow of doubt, they can win this competition.