Thursday, 21 June 2012


Walking home from the train station on monday evening ,  for the first time, i casted my mind to which team amongst the lot we have left is capable of going all the way to the finals , and lifting the trophy .
The first step in the process of determining who the European Champions shall be ,  from my point of view , would be looking back at the level of performance from all the teams i saw in action in the group stages , and then concluding which ones have the potential look of Champions .

It's been amazing to note that the best teams i have witnessed in the competition , bar one , incidentally come from group C - comprising Champions Spain , Italy , and Croatia  ( minus Ireland) and   Germany make up the best 4 .  Okay , Croatia are out unfortunately , but they are  a cracking  side ; and would have advanced  from any other group .

SPAIN : Very easy to see why they are European and world champions . The team is a metaphor of fluidity . Vicente Del Bosque has built one of the best sides world football has ever seen . Like a python  squeezes life out of it's prey , so do Spain strangle opponents with their ability to dominate possession , and dictate play , moving the ball about at will , and making passing angles that can be psychologically demeaning to the opposition .  They have conceptualized breaking teams mind , body  and soul .  Not since the great french team of the mid eighties inspired by that midfield quartet of PLATINI , TIGANA , GIRESE , AND LUIS FERNANADEZ  , have we seen anything like what  Busquets , Xavi , Xabi Alonso and Iniesta offer Spain in midfield . Every thing about the brilliance to Spain can be decoded from the mesmeric play of  those four in midfield .
However , despite how stupendous Spain are , their games against Italy and Croatia were very tight affairs , any form of superiority they might have had was marginal . Spain's  fallibility emanates from their defensive negligence . Since their midfield is designed to dictate play in an advanced geography of the pitch ,  it implies when the opposition win the ball , and break forward Spain seem vulnerable . Croatia proved that a tactically astute team that attacks the back four  of Spain , stand a chance of winning .

GERMANY : Maximum points from the group stages . The team is a very balanced  one,  built  on a very healthy playing philosophy. They try to play football from back to front . The units of the team are quite nicely fused - Neur in goal behind a pretty reliable back four , comprising of two excellent  attacking full backs -Lamn and Boateng. The midfield has all the right ingredients - Schweinsteiger,  Khadira ; Ozil does the creative play , with Podolski , and Mario Gomez , or Klose capable goal scorers. It's a smooth 4-3-3 formation . Their football is less intricate than the Spanish , but it' just as neat , sparkling , and productive . If you ask me , I'd say Germany won't emerge victorious not for any glaring inadequacy , but because there is another team better than they are....

ITALY : are the team to win  the European Championship . Italy tend to get very negative press. They are labelled as boring , ultra defensive  e.t.c  , but you cannot take away their know how , nor underestimate their winning mentality , and the spirit that unites the players when the chips are down. Perhaps they are temperamentally suited to dealing with adversity than most other teams . I have watched all their games at the Euros , and the while i never gave their chances much of a thought then , an analyses now of their players , and the characteristics they are made of , sway my opinion .  Buffon in goal is a warrior . Look in his eyes , you see unbridled passion and desire to win. This man has lifted the world cup , but looking at him in this tournament , you'd think he was only starting out - such is the fire in his eyes . 
Then there is the rugged and uncompromising Chielinni . An Italian defender through and through.... Ever capable of dousing the flames . Overall , they defend in composed fashion.  The midfield is  intriguing , dynamic , and capable of the required resilience and solidity . Thiago Motta , and De Rossi provide  the fire fighting elements ; while that sexy footballer Andrea Pirlo operates with sublime craft , invention , and majestic with his passing . Their midfield unit constitute variance and balance that is difficult to nullify.  
Upfront , Cassano floats about deftly in the last third , difficult to pick-up , and always looking to make something happen for the striker - be it the ever moving and cunning Di Natale , or the mercurial Balotelli .  Italy play with that disguise and wit associated with latin teams  . 
The manager Cesare Prandelli like his illustrious predecessors ,  has moulded the Azzurri in the fashion reminiscent  of the world cup winning teams of 1982 and 2006 . Tactically variable in players and formation - he deployed the 3-5-2 formation to deal with Spain's superiority in ball retention , but what i also noticed is the Italians, although playing on the counter in that game , did so with intent and intensity . 
To me , the best attacking display i have seen in the tournament so far,  also came from Italy in the first half against Croatia. For the Ireland game , Prandelli went 4-4-2  . Italy have shown they possess  players that are adaptable  in a technical sense . I have seen enough to know that this team has a lot more to show , the desire and character  to win as well.

The best thing for Italy is that they are a brilliant disguise. Everyone is fixated on Spain and Germany . Back home , there is the perennial inquiry into match fixing allegations , corruption, and the like...but the Azzurri  have a way of forming even greater cohesion to such a backdrop. Prandelli's team , to me , appear immune to  any antidote because they are more difficult to figure out than Spain or Germany . It's an interlocking group , not glamorous , but pack a devastating  punch . Significantly, it can be delivered in a way opponents least expect.   Italy , champions of Europe in waiting !