“A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.”
The mighty La Roja will be taking on the rejuvenated Azzurris at the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv tonight for that ‘colored ribbon’ and will be hoping to defend their European crown and leave behind lasting legacies. Although it’s not exactly the final everyone expected to see at the start of the tournament, it’s fair to say that both the teams have deservedly earned their place in the finals of the showpiece event.
For most of the players walking out on the pitch tonight, this is probably the final European championship they are going to participate in. Their dreams, the hunger, the desire will have been magnified to levels beyond imagination by now.
While many have regarded this year’s European championships as one of the best tournaments in recent years, we take a look at how our finalists carved their way to the Olympic stadium for the main event.
Spain started the tournament as firm favourites as they took on Italy in their group opener in Gdansk. Although both teams battled out a 1-1 draw, the mercurial Spanish side did have a good outing despite some initial hiccups. The draw in the opening game of the tournament will not have pleased the Spanish supporters as well as the players who are expected to virtually sweep any opposition aside without much fuss. But the second game of the group against Ireland was a typical Spanish treat. The mighty La Roja brushed the Irish aside with a thumping 4-0 victory at Gdansk and announced their arrival in the most royal fashion. Spain walked into the Quarter finals as the group winners after a hard-fought 1-0 victory against a spirited Croatian side.
Spain brushed their Quarter final opponents aside with a comfortable 2-0 victory in a one-sided affair as the Les Bleus were reduced to spectators for major parts of the game. Spain came up against their arch rivals and their Iberian siblings, Portugal in the Semi-finals of the European championships. After a goalless draw in normal time, followed by extra time, Portugal dragged their arch rivals into penalties where Spain held their nerves to make it to the finals on the back of a thrilling 4-2 victory in the penalty shootout.
After an impressive domestic campaign, the Azzurris were expected to make a mark on the tournament. However, reaching the finals was certainly not the target the Italians would have set for themselves at the start of the competition.
Italy started their campaign with a spirited showing against hot favourites, Spain and managed to hold the eventual group winners to a 1-1 draw. The Azzurris followed it up with a nervy display in a 1-1 draw against the Croatians. Scenario of a premature elimination looming large, Italy managed to make it to the Quarter finals of the tournament with a dominating 2-0 win over Ireland.
The Italians went on to face a dull English side in the Quarter finals. Despite enjoying the lion’s share of possession the Azzurris squandered good opportunities as the game went down to penalties. Veteran keeper and captain, Buffon bailed his team with a brilliant save off Ashley Cole and booked a place in the Semi-finals of the competition against the mighty Germans.
What was expected to be the end of the road for the Azzurris, looked like the start of something new as the Italians destroyed a brilliant German side with a splendid performance. Spectacular strikes from the enigmatic, Mario Balotelli handed the Italians a final berth after a 2-1 win against Germany at Warsaw.
As the teams prepare to cancel each other in a battle royale tonight, we take a look at the probable line-ups.
Vicente Del Bosque will have a fully fit squad at his disposal to choose from, for the final showdown against Italy. Spain are expected to continue with their ‘False nine’ strategy are unlikely to field any specialist striker.
Del Bosque is likely to field the same side that met Italy in the group stages of the competition. The defenders are likely to pick themselves after some brilliant showing throughout the tournament, conceding just one goal in five games. Barcelona centre half, Gerard Pique will be lining up alongside Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos at the heart of the defence. Alvaro Arbeloa and Jordi Alba are expected to start as fullbacks.
The midfield trio of Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso and Xavi Hernandez is also likely to retain their place at the centre of the park. Manchester City playmaker, David Silva and the Barcelona wizard, Andres Iniesta are likely to start out wide in a typical 4-3-3 formation with Cesc Fabregas operating in a ‘False Nine’ role.
Cesare Prandelli is likely to shift to a 4-3-1-2 rather than opting for a traditional 3-5-2 when his side comes face to face against the mighty Spaniards in tonight’s final.
Prandelli will be delighted to welcome back the Napoli wing back, Christian Maggio, who was suspended for the Semi-finals having picked up a couple of bookings. The Juventus pair of Bonucci and Chiellini is expected to start at the heart of the defence with Palermo man, Federico Balzaretti operating as a left back.
The midfield is likely to hold itself together after a splendid display in the Semi-finals against Germany. Marchisio, Pirlo and De Rossi are expected to start in a three man midfield with Pirlo operating as a deep lying playmaker, Marchisio as the box to box midfielder and De Rossi as the ball winning midfielder. Ricardo Montolivo is likely to retain his place after a couple of impressive showings and will be deployed into the role of an advanced playmaker.
Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano are expected to lead the line for the Azzurris following some spectacular displays of creativity, understanding and finishing prowess between them.
Xavi vs Pirlo
Both the midfield maestros will be key to their team’s chances of acquiring the European crown tonight. Pirlo, clearly the best player of the tournament has kept his side on top against their oppositions, spraying the ball around and dictating the pace of the game will have to be at his very best when he comes up against one of the best midfielders of his generation in the form of Xavi Hernandez. Despite having an up and down tournament so far, Xavi has always stepped up when needed. His contribution will be the key to Spain’s chances of retaining their crown.
Casillas vs Buffon
Both the captains have guided their nations to amazing victories in the past. Winning games, dragging their teams over the line, impossible saves – Buffon and Casillas have done it all. Their teams will be needing them tonight, especially given the array of attacking talents both sides boast.
Balotelli vs Fabregas
How many times have we seen the team that takes its chances best has come out victorious in the end? The forwards will have to be at their very best in putting away whatever chances may come their way. Missed chances have hurt even the most dominating teams in the most devastating fashion and both the teams will be aware of that tonight.
The game is expected to be played in a good tempo. Since both teams are blessed with wonderful midfield talents, the side that utilises its possession better will have the upper hand. Despite Spain being firm favourites and expected to defend their European crown, I expect to see a new European champion and can see Italy edging this one to claim their second European crown.