Monday, 2 July 2012
Spain became the first European team to ever win three back-to-back international tournaments as they defended the European Championship with a comfortable 4-0 win over Italy thanks to goals from David Silva, Jordi Alba, Fernando Torres and Juan Mata in Kiev.
Euro Soccer 2012 Final Match Video
The game was effectively over at half-time after Spain cut through their opponents with two incisive passes. First it was Andres Iniesta who found Cesc Fabregas to cross for Silva to head home; then it was Xavi whose fine through-ball reached left-back Jordi Alba to calmly slot home.
It was all too much for Mario Balotelli, who marched straight down the tunnel at the end and angrily shrugged away efforts from Italian officials to get him to stay, before returning for the presentation ceremony.
Yet the thing was, Italy were not disgraced and would have held out hopes of a comeback until Cesare Prandelli's final replacement Thiago Motta was stretchered off within four minutes of his arrival, leaving his team-mates to battle through the final half hour with 10 men.
Ultimately though, Spain's display was a fitting end to the best European Championships in almost three decades. Four players in particular, Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Andres Iniesta and Xavi deserve a special mention after starting all three finals, in Vienna, Johannesburg and now Kiev.
But, as 'Ole' rang around this magnificent stadium, it was a night to glory in tiki-taka - and the players who put it into practice. Throughout the tournament, the argument for Spain being a dour outfit had been building. It dominated the pre-match press conferences and was fuelled still further by Arsene Wenger, who accused the world champions of "betraying their philosophy'' by turning their tiki-taka style into a negative.
After 15 minutes of the most majestic football imaginable, the greatest noise was the sound of all those words being rammed jubilantly down throats. Coach Vicente del Bosque refused to bow to the demand for a regular centre-forward to be included in his starting line-up and was rewarded with a start the quality of which was on a par with anything this group of players has ever produced.
Ramos had a couple of early efforts, so too Xavi. Andres Iniesta also had a shot blocked before Spain cut their opponents' defence to shreds. The move was astounding in its simplicity. Alvaro Arbeloa started it, Xavi was also involved before Iniesta split the Italy defence with a pass Cesc Fabregas was able to cut-back from the by-line. And who should be there to head home? None other than little David Silva, who had got free at the near post and flicked the ball into the far.
By half-time, Spain had another. Again five passes were involved. This time it went back to front. Iker Casillas, Fabregas and then Alba, who fed Xavi and kept motoring. What unfolded can only make Barcelona thankful they had agreed to pay Valencia €14 million for the full-back before the tournament started. His price would have gone up significantly otherwise.
Xavi has played that straight through ball thousands of times in his illustrious career. The pace on it was perfect. Alba, beyond Italy's back-line, steadied himself before sliding a shot calmly past Gianluigi Buffon.
Under normal circumstances, the half-time statistics would have underlined Spain's superiority. In fact, they showed Italy had played more passes and secured 53% possession, almost unheard of against this Spain team. With Casillas not enjoying his most secure evening, the Azzurri would have expected to create something meaningful. But the bounce of the ball would not go their way.
Casillas got in the way of a thunderous effort from Antonio Cassano and Balotelli fired over. No-one could accuse Prandelli of lacking guts. Within 11 minutes of the re-start he had used all his substitutes and seen one of them Antonio di Natale bring a decent save out of Casillas after collecting Riccardo Montolivo's pass inside the area.
Unfortunately for Italy, the last replacement, Motta was only on the field for four minutes before he pulled a hamstring and had to be stretchered off. It was dreadful luck for the Azzurri, who now knew their task was a hopeless one. All that was left was to stave off humiliation. Even that was beyond them as substitutes Torres and Mata struck in the final minutes.
Italy didn't deserve that. Their first competitive defeat to Spain - penalties excepted - since the 1920 Olympics. Spain, record breakers twice over, now unbeaten in this competition for 29 games, a run that stretches back to June 2004. History makers. How boring.
■Man of the Match: Xavi. A magnificent assist for Spain's second-goal took all the confidence out of the Italian side. The Barcelona maestro added another glorious assist for the third goal and dominated the midfield throughout. Iniesta alongside him was also at his radiant best, but in what could be his final international tournament match, Xavi was the central figure. Interestingly, he also did an important pressing job on Italy's key player, Andrea Pirlo.
■Spain verdict: Spain were at their imperious best in this final, following a tournament in which they have faced increasing criticism for their style of play. In the knockout rounds they may have been ponderous, but against Italy they were incisive, vibrant and full of invention. Having come under pressure midway through the first-half, they rode the storm and at the first opportunity cut through their opponents to stretch their league. A complete display.
■Italy verdict: Italy did well to get to the final of Euro 2012, including a fine victory over Germany, but they were defensively at sea in the face of Spain's passing game. Able to compete manfully in midfield, the possession statistics are kinder on Italy than to most of Spain's opponents, but the strikeforce was not supplied with the ammunition needed to trouble the reigning champions. Questions will be asked as to whether they approached the game with the right tactical set-up
.■Could do better: Cesare Prandelli. Having nullified Spain in the tournament's opening game, Prandelli opted not to revert to the 3-5-2 that served them so well in that encounter. Chiellini was kept at left-back from the semi-final and struggled from the start, before being withdrawn through injury. Prandelli was unlucky and could not have predicted Thiago Motta would also leave the pitch with a hamstring problem, but the decision to bring on a defensive midfielder when in search of a goal was questionable
.■Stat Attack: Iker Casillas kept his ninth European Championship clean sheet - equalling Edwin van der Sar's record.
Friday, 22 June 2012
Monday, 18 June 2012
Ronaldo double downs Dutch
A double from Cristiano Ronaldo ensured that Portugal finished in second place in Group B and condemned Netherlands to an early exit from Euro 2012 as it finished 2-1 in Kharkiv.
Ronaldo, who had been criticised for his lack of form earlier in the tournament, equalised Rafael van der Vaart's fine curling effort in the first-half and then bagged another with just over 15 minutes to go to seal his side's comeback.
Apart from a fine early strike from Rafael van der Vaart, Netherlands were poor, ensuring a team considered among the pre-tournament favourites finished bottom of Group B without a point to their name. The match was 11 minutes old when Netherlands's hopes of reaching the quarter-finals were given a shot in the arm. Bayern Munich winger Arjen Robben weaved a path to the edge of the area where Van der Vaart was waiting to steer an inch-perfect finish into the bottom left corner. A moment of madness from Gregory van der Wiel almost saw Netherlands concede the advantage but, having inexplicably passed the ball to Helder Postiga, he watched in relief as the Portugal striker shot wide with only Maarten Stekelenburg to beat. Stekelenburg then kept out a well-struck header by Ronaldo, who would not be denied in the 28th minute. The initial damage was done by Joao Pereira's defence-splitting pass and Ronaldo rewarded his vision with a composed first touch and slick finish. Nani missed narrowly, but it was Portugal's captain who was the prominent figure on the pitch as he twice went close to seizing the lead. Netherlands's defence was in danger over being over-run with Ronaldo cast at their tormentor in chief with Portugal pushing for a second. The Real Madrid forward continued to attack the Dutch early in the second half, but his side should have trailed in the 53th minute. Wesley Sneijder crossed from the left to the unmarked Ron Vlaar only for his clumsy attempted header to drift off-target from close range. Postiga had a goal disallowed for offside before Fabio Coentrao was denied by sharp reactions from Stekelenburg, who then frustrated Nani from point-blank range after a marauding run by Ronaldo. The Portugal wingers combined once again in the 74th minute, and this time Netherlands cracked. A swift counter attack ended with Nani feeding a long pass to Ronaldo who dummied his shot, took the ball into space and prodded home. Van der Vaart curled an effort onto the right post as Netherlands produced a strong finish, but there was still time for Ronaldo to hit the woodwork.
Germany top, Danes knocked out
Denmark were knocked out of Euro 2012 as they fell to a 2-1 defeat to Germany. Needing a win over the group favourites to progress, as Portugal beat Netherlands, the Danes went behind to a Lukas Podolski strike early on but equalised through Michael Krohn-Dehli's header.
However, defender Lars Bender popped up with ten minutes to go to end their hopes of qualification and left the Germans top of the group.
The Bayer Leverkusen midfielder, playing as full-back for the national team, struck as Denmark were pushing for a goal which would have taken them through to the last eight at their opponents' expense, and just after Morten Olsen's side had seen a strong penalty appeal turned down. Lukas Podolski put Germany in front in the 19th minute, but a goal from Michael Krohn-Dehli five minutes later lifted Denmark's spirits. Germany controlled much of the game, but were nevertheless made to sweat as Denmark's belief and Portugal's 2-1 win over Holland ensured a tense finale which ended in their favour, clinching them top spot in Group B with a perfect record and a clash with Greece in Gdansk on Friday. Germany coach Joachim Low made his first change of the tournament, replacing the suspended Jerome Boateng with Lars Bender, but he resisted the temptation to make further alterations to his winning side. Niki Zimling was passed fit to play by Denmark coach Morten Olsen, while the injured Dennis Rommedahl's place was taken by Jakob Poulsen. Low's side began with authority and the diligent Muller went close twice early on, but Stephan Andersen showed lightning reactions to deny his second attempt in the sixth minute. Germany remained camped in the Denmark half, playing a patient yet expressive game which led to Podolski marking his 100th Germany appearance with a goal in the 19th minute. Muller provided a low cross from the right-hand side of the penalty area which Mario Gomez flicked intelligently back to Podolski, who left nothing to chance with a powerful shot from seven yards out. Germany's lead lasted only five minutes, though, before Krohn-Dehli's second goal of the tournament brought the Danes level. He diverted Nicklas Bendtner's header past Manuel Neuer from six yards out from a well-worked corner after a positive reaction from the Danes to falling behind. Towards the end of the first half, Podolski blazed a free-kick over the bar from the edge of the penalty area and Sami Khedira prodded a shot wide from 10 yards out as Denmark were again forced to defend. Jakob Poulsen went within inches of putting Denmark in front five minutes into the second half when his shot grazed the outside of the left-hand post with Neuer beaten. Low sent Schurrle on for Podolski midway through the second half and his first touch of the game brought an excellent one-handed save out of Andersen. Neuer showed less sophistication in dealing with Zimling's distance effort in the 71st minute, conceding a corner as Denmark enjoyed another bright spell. Five minutes later, Bendtner got in around the back and tried at full stretch to lift the ball over Neuer, but without success as he had his shirt pulled by Holger Badstuber. One goal for Denmark was still required to send them through and send Germany home since Portugal had taken the lead against Holland, but just as Low's side were showing the first signs of tension, they regained the lead from an unlikely outlet. Mesut Ozil's throughball was intended for Miroslav Klose, but it was too far in front of the Lazio striker but inviting for full-back Bender, who coolly took his first international goal in the 80th minute to take Germany through and knock Denmark out of Euro 2012.