Sporty Ol’ Stanley: And Now, The End Is Near…
After a pretty high standard and thirty games, we finally come to the end of what has been an amazing Euros 2012 tournament. When both teams step onto the turf tonight at the Olympic Stadium, we will be witnessing two teams there on merit. Nobody fluked any wins or scraped though their group. The only team to score in this tournament against Spain: Italy. The only team to have conceded less than Italy: Spain. The only team to have more shots than Spain on target: Italy. The only team fouled more than Italy: Spain. You get the picture.
This could go one of two ways tonight. Firstly, if we are to go by form, where neither team has conceded more than one goal so far in the tournament, it will be a cagey affair with a distinct lack of goals.
Secondly, if we go by the fact that nobody knows what he will do, Mario Balotelli might score a brace in the first 20 mins and then we would have a game on our hands. It is as simple as that. Nobody in this tournament has enthralled as much as Balotelli and that is why we love him. From looking like a Sunday league player in the first game when given a monumental amount of time to score against Spain and not knowing what to do, to scoring two crackers against Germany last week in a man of the mach display, he is the complete package. Not footballing wise, entertainment wise. When he plays, all people talk about afterwards is how he performed. It’s simply astonishing.
Aside from Balotelli, though, there are a couple of other notable players on each team, and so I’ve highlighted the key battles in tonight’s game.
Pirlo V Xavi
A shoe in for the player of the tournament, Pirlo has shown us all that even though he is no spring chicken, class never disappears, and he’s been working each game like a master puppeteer, pulling strings everywhere on the pitch. Sublime passes, tough tackling, simplicity when required and coolness under pressure have all been on show in his five matches so far.
Xavi has been epic too and in any other tournament would be the standout player. What may let him down is that with Spain playing most games without a recognised striker, there is nobody for him to thread that killer pass to.
Pique V Balotelli
Pique left the Premier League a seemingly lightweight centre-half who couldn’t handle the rough and tumble of the English game. Fast forward a few years and he is now widely regarded as one of the best in the world in his position. Having kept Super Mario quiet for most of the first meeting at the start of the tournament, he may be in for a rude awakening tonight as Balotelli goes all guns blazing for the Golden Boot, needing only one more goal to become outright top scorer.
Prandelli V Del Bosque
With Spain seeming to only have one back-up plan if their system doesn’t work, it bodes well that the Italian coach has been making changes that have affected games since the start. The goalscorer against Spain was brought on to the pitch a mere five minutes before netting. The same happened with Balotelli against Ireland, with him coming on with 15 minutes to go and scoring a wonder goal in injury time. Del Bosque will struggle to convince strikers such as Torres to give their heart and soul when they are so obviously frustrated at being benched for long periods of time.
As much as Spain want to become record breakers by winning a third major tournament in a row, I can’t see them overcoming an Italian team who have come together as a unit under adversity. I am going Italy 3-1 with Balotelli netting a couple.