Monday, 2 July 2012

Day Twenty Four

Italy v Spain

Do you remember whenTomorrow's World had the first ever prototype push button phone? What's the point of that? we all thought. It saves about half a second a number. Is this really the future? It was, and that was the end of the line for the rotary dial.

Four decades later Spain have abolished the striker, and we can all instantly see the point. Instead, they have many, many shooting, dribbling and passing midfielders. Last night they fielded about thirty of them, all shooting, dribbling and passing at the same time, all of the time. How amazing are the laws of physics, that they can accommodate a team like Spain?

Which makes the Spanish gameplan sound complicated and hard to choreograph, but their first goal was simple enough. The ball came through to Fabregas, who outpaced the covering defender and got down the goal line. The keeper had to cover his run at the near post, so the cross effectively took him out of the game. Silva only had to head into an empty net, although his control and placing to put it past the covering defender were excellent.

Soon after that Italy had to take Chiellini off. They brought on Balzaretti, who I thought had done well against Germany. After he came on Italy started to look stronger, building some positive moves out of their back third solidity.

It was top quality stuff all round. Spain were always threatening, moving the ball about with their usual flair and going round players almost at will, but diligent and well-timed Italian tackles and interceptions kept them at bay for a while.

The gulf in class between either team and England was palpable.  As @ed_son tweeted, Looking at the teams, you can't help thinking how much more of a spectacle this game would be with Terry, Henderson and Milner involved. Ah, the English. When it comes to irony we're world class. In football - well let's just say games like this make me proud to be a European. If only there was a football Ryder Cup, we'd walk it.

Let's use the Spanish second goal to illustrate the gap between us and them. Imagine if you will a small rectangular savannah filled with mutually hostile gangs of primitive creatures, half ape half footballer. They call to each other in grunts and glottal stops, and one gang has crudely daubed three lions on their chests in charcoal.

The tallest of the these, let's call him Andy Carroll, is bashing a defender's skull in with a rock. We see him throw it triumphantly but aimlessly into the sky, and suddenly Xavi is launching it precisely into Jordi Alba's orbit to the tune of the Blue Danube. Alba's turbocharged shot fires it under the keeper, it docks seamlessly with the net and Spain are two up. My god, they're full of stars.

Italy had their chances in the first half as well. Montolivo, Balotelli and Cassano all had shots from distance. They might have troubled an English keeper, but Casillas wasn't really stretched.

At half time they treated us to the goals of the tournament, and Vialli compared Pirlo to Beethoven. I found this immensely reassuring. It shows it isn't just me, you see. If I choose to use a pointlessly elaborate metaphor to illustrate something I could quite easily just describe, I'm not being deliberately awkward, I'm being - European.

Italy brought di Natale on for Cassano, who'd been largely anonymous during the first half, and Spain replaced Silva with Pedro. Apparently wanting to win at substitutions if at nothing else, Prandelli took Montilivo off for Motta, who went down almost immediately with what appeared to be a hamstring problem. It was their third substitution, so Italy were down to ten men.

It was unfortunate really, as this extra blow seemed to drain all the drama from the game. With ten men Italy just couldn't get the ball back. Spain did all they needed to do, playing the ball around midfield for half an hour while Italy held the line.

With 15 minutes left Spain brought Torres on for Fabregas. It seemed a bit like going back to the dial phone, but it did lead to the first really good chance of the second half, as Pedro missed a sitter only to be given offside anyway. The game was starting to feel like the last day of term, with Spain killing time teasing the school pet.

Ten minutes from the end they showed us the possession stats, and it was exactly 50% either way. This was evidence if any was needed of the meaninglessness of simple stats, devoid of context. It doesn't prove that statistics is an empty science, it just shows that it's hard.

The commentators were wondering what Italy could possibly do, but then Spain went and did it instead. It was a straightforward ball through to Torres, who ran through Italy's wavering and irregular offside trap with the speed and timing of a European train and knocked it home in that nonchalant way that Henry used to. Of all the season's endings we'd imagined for Torres, I don't think anyone was anticipating nonchalance.

The goal gave him the Golden Boot. He had three goals and one assist, just like Gomez, but had played less minutes. Without wanting to be churlish, he scored two goals against Ireland and one against an already defeated team, so may not be the most deserving winner ever. Ronaldo, Balotelli, Mandzukic of Croatia and Dzagoev of Russia also scored three goals, and any of those five might be argued to have contributed more. Like I said earlier, statistics is hard.

They brought Mata of Chelsea on for Iniesta, purely as a charitable act. Llorente is now, I believe, the only Spanish outfield player not to get on. In any other squad he'd be in the first team, but Spain only play the most accomplished astrophysicists.

The fourth goal was just cruel. Bosquets played a long hard pass along the ground but through the Italian line to  Torres. He might have shot but instead passed to Mata, who had an open goal. Made in Chelsea, as the commentators inexplicably forgot to say. It made Spain the only team ever to win a major international tournament final by a four goal margin.

The referee put Italy through every second of the allocated three minutes of extra time, but no more. Balotelli stormed off the pitch in a sulk, which is very like him, but then recovered himself and came back out, which isn't. He's only twenty one, maybe he's getting a grip.

Alan Shearer summed the winners up. The Spanish team, they've had an unbelievable amount of sex. He corrected it to success half a second later, but if that kind of performance doesn't get you a shag there's no justice in the world.

Anyway, that was Spain beating Italy. Now when's the next game?


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