Vicente Del Bosque's Spain team banish boring tag as Italy mislay tactics in Euro 2012 final
The Olympic Stadium
Monday 02 July 2012
Now, there can be no more questions. Not only might Spain be the greatest team of all time after winning an astonishing third successful trophy. They may well be the most innovative. Not to mention, at this exalted level, unbeatable.
After four years in which Vicente del Bosque's side have had to face a series of teams who have dropped deeper and deeper against them, his solution has been to start with three attacking midfielders up front rather than a nominal striker. He did it again last night.
It has created a lot of debate. It also, however, created the platform for history to be made. Indeed, this entire coronation effectively served as a culmination of their possession, pressing-based approach.
Most of all, it was anything but boring. It was brilliant. By the quarter-hour, Spain had made a mockery of so many of the debates.Indeed, the opening goal was almost the perfect illustration of Del Bosque's entire rationale with the system.
After a kaleidoscopic passing move, the three rotating attackers combined to produce a goal that was at once exhilaratingly complex but also supremely orthodox.
First, Andres Iniesta played a divine through ball for Cesc Fabregas. He went around the outside while David Silva went around the inside, with the latter then very simply heading in Fabregas's chip.
This has been the whole point of Del Bosque's system: for the interchanging attacking midfielders to confuse opposition defenders and thereby create extra space.
The key difference between last night and previous matches, though, was that Spain simply looked so much sharper and so much less fatigued. Unlike the four days between the quarter-final and semi-final in which they did so much needless travelling between north-west Poland and south-east Ukraine, the same time period here set up this performance. In a way that they didn't against Portugal, all of their passes were coming off.
It wasn't the only difference, though. Italy were pressing much more aggressively – in terms of both position on the pitch and physicality – than pretty much any other side that has played Spain.
It also, however, created much more space for Spain; the kind of space they thrive in and which so many other teams have sought desperately to deny them.
Here, it must be said that Cesare Prandelli took a big risk. Having previously been the most tactically astute manager for the vast majority of this tournament, he was shown exactly why so few teams actually take this gamble against the Spanish: they tend to get ripped apart.
There were a few moments, it must be said, when they could perhaps have done with a more orthodox forward: not least on six minutes when Jordi Alba crossed from the left with no one there to meet it.
As a result, once Italy finally got to grips with the game after Spain actually scored the first, they were still in it. And, for a 15-minute spell, they put the Spanish under some real pressure.
Then, however, Spain simply stepped up again. And, after a largely indifferent tournament for someone of his undoubted quality, so did Xavi. With Alba thundering forward, the player that has defined this generation played a ball of equal quality to Iniesta's for the left-back to slide past Gianluigi Buffon.
Xavi didn't exactly define this tournament though. And, in the end, neither did Pirlo. That was Iniesta. When it mattered most, too, he had the biggest influence.
As if to add insult to injury, then, Spain did bring on a forward and he did score. What's more Fernando Torres became joint-top scorer.
It was yet another sign of their complete domination. By then, though, any argument was long over.
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