Spanish Expedition/ Italian Inquisition.

Hard to believe it’s been three weeks since my rather ambitious Euro 2012 prediction. To be fair, it wasn’t far off. Russia started well but it seems they became complacent and instead of winning their group (which surely everyone agrees they should have done), they ended up getting beaten by a stubborn Greece side (whom I had alluded would go and prove me wrong) and not proceeding beyond their group. The rest of my semi-finalists did come through the first stage rather comfortably, Germany and England winning their respective groups, while France were predictably inconsistent in the group stage but managed to get through it any way, and we all know anything can happen from there.

The one thing that I think really messed up my whole foresight was Group C, containing both of tomorrow’s finalists, Spain and Italy. I labelled this the potential toughest group in my prediction post, and in that respect I was proved right (I’ve covered your backs there, Ireland). However, Italy should have beaten Spain in their first match, and the only reason they didn’t is because of Spain’s questionable style of play; 10 million passes per game and sometimes playing without a striker. Their free-flowing attacking play that everyone enjoyed watching so much four years ago is long gone, replaced by an Arsenal-like passing game that they’ve relied on to get all the way to the final, scraping draws against Italy and Portugal in the process.

Italy, on the other hand, have been the outstanding team at the tournament. Predicted winners Germany never came close to matching their potential and were deservedly beaten by the Italians. In fact, had the penalties went England’s way in their quarter-final, I firmly believe it would be an English-Spanish final. Funny how a couple of penalty kicks can decide whether England “will never win anything” or make them one of the best teams in the world, isn’t it? Or is that just what the British media tells us…

Yes, Italy, then. In my prediction I alluded to the fact that they play good football these days (and said they would win their group). I did expect them to play well at this tournament but slip up at the quarter-final stage, simply because I thought they’d be playing France, and I expected more from the French. Reflecting on things now, I’m glad they’ve made the final. Spain have become arrogant in their style of play and I can think of no-one better to challenge their confident dominance of the game than the Italians tomorrow night.

As for the result, it is a tough one to call. We have one team that likes attacking and one that likes passing it around between midfield and defence. Four years ago, the Spanish were masters of the former, while Italy were notorious in their successful 2006 World Cup campaign for getting a 1-0 lead and shutting the game out. Now, it seems their styles have switched. Spain are the new Italy, Italy on their way to becoming the new Spain (after their recent failure at the 2010 World Cup, they really needed a positive change, and they’ve got it).

The Spanish, champions in 2008 and World Cup winners of 2010, are aiming to make history, but even two years ago they were beginning to look tired to me, in a World Cup campaign where weaker teams managed to get to the latter stages of the competition. Would it be a victory for football if Spain won tomorrow night? Four years ago it would have been; not any more. The two semi-finals represented both the worst (Portugal vs Spain) and best (Germany vs Italy) matches of the tournament so far. Italy showed flair and boldness in their attacking style of play against the Germans, giving us the kind of game we hoped for but have rarely seen at this year’s competition. Meanwhile, the only thing to make headlines from Spain’s semi-final was Ronaldo not having the opportunity to take a penalty kick at the end, which tells us all we need to know about how exciting the Spanish were.

Who would I like to win? Italy. What does my gut tell me? That it will be a draw, 120 minutes of deadlock, and penalties once again.

Prediction: 1-1.

Spain to win on penalties.


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