Saturday, 30 June 2012
And then there were 2.
The two Semi Finals of this remarkable Tournament have given us 2 fantastic contests, and the outcome of both hinged on the narrowest of margins.
In the first, between Spain and Portugal, here were two teams that were prepared to play. The number of passes seemed to have become the yardstick that debates on the efficacy of approach had been based , and there was an interesting variation here.
Prior to that, the major point at issue was Del Bosque's decision not to use a No 9, or even a "false 9" as he had done previously, and Sevilla's Alvaro Negredo, (an alternative 9 maybe) started, and led the line.
In truth, his performance turned out to be very quiet, which allowed the Pundits to concentrate on the performance of CR7. Whilst certainly lively, with dribbles, shots, and free kicks aplenty, this wasn't really the key to why Spain were more stretched than is usual.
More, it was about a side that for once took Spain on, toe to toe.
The Portugese pressed high, hard and fast, and, moreover, were prepared to test their skills against the putative leaders of the pack.
The initial surprise for the World Champions was that here was a side not ready to be cowed immediately, and the impact was seen in the Spanish lack of that key element, the control.
The game settled into a rhythm, with the Potugeezers generally on top in the normal 90, whilst Spain, made better by the introduction of Fabregas and Jesus Navas for Negredo and Xavi (a brave decision), could well have won it in extra time.
Ultimately, it came down to the penalty shoot out, and Portugal and CR7's decision to place him fifth up came back to haunt them, as Cesc buried the Spanish fourth to put Portugal out and to further frustrate Christiano, who didn't even get to take his kick.
The fact that Ronaldo had indeed had a chance to win it in the very last minute of normal time was forgotten, but it's something that still intrigues me in appreciation of this great (but not the greatest) footballer. Hey, Messi would have scored.
There have been large tracts written about how the Spanish approach is "sterile" and "killing the game" even.
Do me a favour. Please ignore such nonsense. And switch talkSPORT off, now!!
In the second game there were at first team line up surprises.
Italy less so, with Chiellini again fit, but some shock at Germany, less with Gomez and Podolski for Schurlle and Klose, but for Toni Kroos's inclusion, and more in the way that he was asked to play.
My feeling was that he wouldn't play on the right,(as was being suggested pre match) but centrally, thus allowing the wandering Ozil (who has a free role anyway) to drift right as he so often enjoys, but is less effective when started there.
Jurgi Low is nothing if not original, and this choice surprised most, myself included.
Here's the deal.
When you start Ozil centrally, as RM do and as have Germany mostly, his influence on the game is augmented by his allowed freedom to go right (particularly) or where the space allows. Muller, Khedira, Schweinsteiger even will then become the pivot, allowing Ozil free reign to attack at will.
Yesterday, Kroos played the central pivotal role, and Ozil became just another wide attacker.
I'm being harsh here, since this wasn't always the case, and the German creation was better when Ozil slipped into playmaker duties centrally. Still, it wasn't enough, and Toni Kroos's drive going forward was seriously complicated by the Italian diamond passing around and through him.
The classic example was Montilivio's picking up of a Buffon punch on the left, and playing a dagger-like through ball that Balotelli took forward to crash home one of the goals of the Tournament to put the Azzuri 2-0 ahead.
He had already capitalised on a super Cassano cross to crash the game's opener past Neuer with a powerful header.
Despite, or because of the changes to the German line-up, Mario Balotelli, bad boy extraordinaire, was a constant menace, so that first header on 23m to give Italy the lead, was original, but no surprise.
Italy's midfield diamond, anchored by the sublime Andrea Pirlo, gave a classier example of Joe Royle's "Dogs of war" Everton from many years back.
Germany were genuinely stunned for 10m or so, and with Pirlo again playing the Trequartista, Marchisio and Montilivio alternated as the Fantasista (the No 10) leading to that wonderful second Balotelli goal.
Put clear of a high line by a cute pass, he advanced and struck a rocket that was still rising as it ripped into the German net. Goal of the Tournament, redux.
As Germany did their damndest to get back into the game, the quality of Italian substitutes (Motta for Montilivio for instance) left a limited time for Reus and Klose to effect the same on the German change.
More importantly, I still think the first choice XI was wrong.Toni Kroos, a quality player, nevertheless but changed the shape of the side. This was a gross mistake.
In the previous games, Ozil had always started centrally and wandered at will to the right when it suited him. In this game, Kroos took the middle leaving Ozil less effective starting on the right where he doesn't get to pull every string. Almost like Italy moving Pirlo wide - it's just not done.
Despite Germany's late penalty, the Azzuri advanced to meet the tiki-taka maestros (who have taken some very very foolish flak in the English media) in a final of two teams of quality in a Tournament of the same. Sunday night we get to see the outcome.
Bring it on.
Much debate ensues about Spain's choice of a No 9 or not for this game. My feeling is that both Torres and Pedro will start, at the expense of David Silva and Fabregas. Still, what do I know? We'll see. It promises to be a cracking game.See Sid Lowe's classic debate above.