WELLPS, after three weeks of wall-to-wall action, the cream of Europe has risen to the top. Lesser sides such as Ireland, England (obvs.), and most notably the shitty Dutch have been found out, and subsequently sent off on their summer holidays. It takes a different class to survive all the way to the final, and only España and Italia are good enough, papist enough, and downright RAYCESST enough to make the grade.
Earlier in this competition, Spain and Italy faced off in the first matchday of Group C action, a memorable 1-1 draw featuring surprisingly open play from the Eye-talians. Rather than sit back, soak up the seemingly endless Spanish possession, and hope to strike on the counterattack, the Italians played aggressively on both sides of the ball, as did Portugal in the semifinal, the only two occasions in this tournament when the Spanish looked uncomfortable.
Spain had the luxury of leaving all of their strikers on the bench and playing six (6) central midfielders in a shape-shifting attack, which only lead to one clear opportunity on goal but was duly converted by Cesc Fabreagas to level the score just four minutes after the Italians took the lead through Antonio Di Natale.
At the beginning of this tournament, the consensus among sportswriters in the GOT DAMM LIBERUL MEDIUH was that Group B was the Group of Death™. Howevah, all of those teams have now returned home in shame. You have to feel sorry for Croatia, who were lumped in with both finalists in Group C and were a credit to themselves and the twelve other members of the population of their itsy bitsy Adriatic nation. Had they taken one late, glaring opportunity to score in their match with Spain, Croatia would have advanced, Spain would have been knocked on their asses, and for all we know the Croats could be contesting the final. Similarly, in the semifinal shooutout victory for Spain over their Portuguese neighbors, Bruno Alves was one inch away from the perfect penalty and Fabregas was an inch from disaster. These are the fine margins of error at which world class soccer players operate.
So, who will emerge victorious in the final (2:45 pm Eastern on Sundee, July 1)? Your correspondent thinks it may well be Italia. Noted genius/utter madman Mario Balotelli looks to be in the mood after his one-man demolition job against ze Germans yesterday, so does his strike partner (the completely bonkers Antonio Cassano) and the makeshift Spanish central defensive pairing of Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos will be made uncomfortable for 90 minutes.
Spain has emerged as the troll of international football. Unlike Barcelona, who score goals for fun, this Spanish side are barely scoring 1.5 goals per game on average, a figure that is goosed a little bit by 4-0 a rout of the Irish Rugby team earlier in Group C action. Spain is the new Italy. They score one goal and then aim to prevent their opponents from having even a sniff of an equalizer. Whereas the Italian sides of the last thirty years have done this through catenaccio, the bewildering five-man defense featuring four man-markers and a free man to sweep away any loose balls, the Spanish stifle their opposition through possessing the ball as long as possible. It works brilliantly against sides that aren’t fit enough to chase them, or those that aren’t organized enough to shut it down, but the Italians are made of different stuff.
With Andrea Pirlo orchestrating the proceedings, Daniele De Rossi keeping things tidy at the back, and Signor Balotelli emerging as an unplayable man-beast, I expect an Italian victory, 2-1.