Archive for March 27th, 2008

Spain 1-0 Italy (Internat’l Friendly): David Villa Magic, La Furia Roja Beat the Azzurri in Spain

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

Spain FA (Real Federación Española de Fútbol)Italy FA (Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio)

Spain won their prestigious friendly vs. the World Champions Wednesday night, much to the delight of the 35,000 spectators of Elche stadium (despite the chants calling for Raúl’s name during the match). In truth, the biggest victor among Spanish ranks was little man David Villa: in minute 77, the Valencia striker invented a marvelous strike from the edge of the box that not even Superman (with Gigi Buffon, that’s not a big stretch) would have been able to save. Till then, the match had been played out evenly among the two teams with Spain coming close through Fernando Torres, and Italy seeing a seemingly valid goal by Luca Toni called off in the first half, and Mauro Camoranesi hitting the crossbar in the second.

Despite the loss however, it’s become clear this Azzurri team has a few established certainties that not even the strong winds of Elche were able to blow away. This is a serene group playing a “ripe” football, and who unburdened by the presence of ‘Prima Donnas’ makes of teamwork its strongest asset. Yes, post-World Cup euphoria has perhaps taken away a bit of their “hunger”, but these Azzurri have a great squad mentality and can still achieve many great things together (on that topic, read the excellent “Italy’s World Cup Spirit” article on Gazzetta in English). Few times before (and players will agree) was a 1-0 loss to a World football giant so easy to digest.

David Villa celebrates after his stunning goal vs. Italy (March 26, 2008)

International Friendly - Spain 1-0 Italy

Tactically, Roberto Donadoni made a slight change to predicted formations of Tuesday night, by reverting is 4-1-4-1 to a 4-2-3-1. The Don confirmed Marco Materazzi in his usual position at the heart of Roberto Donadoni, age 44the Azzurri defense (alongside Fabio Cannavaro), while throwing a bone to Fabio Grosso in the left-back position (over Gianluca Zambrotta). No choice would ever be wiser, as the Lyon man (not particularly brilliant with his club so far, but who always did well with the Azzurri) turned out to be the best player on the field Wednesday night. In front of the back-line, Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi took charge, right behind playmaker Simone Perrotta and wingers Antonio Di Natale and Mauro Camoranesi. Up front (unsurprisingly): the lone Luca Toni.

Luis Aragonés, age 69On the other end, Luis Aragonés stuck to his plans, and fielded a 4-1-4-1 formation lead by Sergio Ramos and Joan Capdevila on the wings, and a very solid/technical midfield line. When you have players of the caliber of Andrés Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fàbregas and David Silva, odds are strikers like Fernando Torres are going to be well-supplied.

Speaking of technique, the ball control of Aragonés’s men would be the recurring leitmotiv of Wednesday’s match, with the much-advertised Spanish ‘tiqui-taca’ taking its full effect on home soil. The short passing game of La Furia Roja would however be well-controlled by the Azzurri defense, then ready to feed the front line with quick and dangerous counter-attacks. Pirlo got to work with his distribution magic, Di Natale used his speed & agility as his main wepon, Grosso multiplied his presence on the left wing: every Azzurro was doing their part. Everyone save perhaps Simone Perrotta, not in his usual game-battling form.

Luca Toni scores his header to bring Italy in the lead, but the goal is disallowed for a Fabio Cannavaro foulThe first highlight of the half was the 14th minute Luca Toni goal, called off for a very doubtful Cannavaro foul, to which Spain replied with sporadic stabs at the Azzurri defense. One minute after Toni’s “goal”, a Silva-Torres combination set up the Liverpool striker for a good shot, wide of Buffon’s post. Iniesta had no better luck 5 minutes later, but then the home team would really get to work.

In minute 37, the best of Buffon’s reflexes were necessary to deny Torres from short-range, then Fàbregas on the ensuing rebound. Those still doubting the Azzurri have the best goalkeeper in the world (yes, I’m pointing the finger at you Real Madrid fans) were probably further convinced in minute 45, as the Juve nº1 deflected yet another long-range Fàbregas effort to safety. The half thus ended 0-0, with Carles Puyol picking up a knock shortly after the quarter hour, and being forced off to the benefit or Raul Albiol.

Gennaro Gattuso (left) and XaviIn the second period, time for changes (as expected in a friendly match): Materazzi, Pirlo, and Toni made way for Barzagli, Gattuso, and Borriello, while David Villa substituted Torres in the Spanish ranks. The insertion of Gennaro Gattuso notably, re-established the Azzurri’s tactical equilibrium missing in the first half (De Rossi and Pirlo were stepping a bit over each other’s toes), allowing the rest of his teammates to focus on the defensive efforts. In minute 51, some good work by Fabio Grosso on the left wing cleared space for the backpass to Mauro Camoranesi: the Juve midfielder armed his left foot and took a swinging one-time shot straight onto Iker Casillas’s crossbar.

7 minutes later the Italo-Argentine went for a repeat, and exploiting a Borriello backpass slammed a howitzer on which the intervention of Capdevila was capital, deflecting into corner. By then it became clear that, much like Spain in the first half, it was now the Azzurri who were dominating play, a fact further enhanced by the addition of Aquilani (for Perrotta) and Zambrotta (for Panucci) which added speed and penetration power in Donadoni’s ranks. Camoranesi obtained yet another golden chance in minute 76, receiving from De Rossi and slaloming through the Spanish defense, only to see his finishing touch saved by Casillas rushing out. A ‘Buffon-style’ save some might say…

David Villa top corner magic, Buffon can’t reach itThat was until David Villa donned his Zinedine Zidane boots, and much like the French playmaker in the 2002 Champions League final, exploited a short Cannavaro header clearance to send an absolute stormer straight into Buffon’s top-right pocket: looping ball, left-footed shot on the volley, perfect coordination. 1-0 Spain.

That was essential the last ‘big’ highlight of the match, because with
15 minutes left to play neither team came anywhere close to the Villa goal quality. In the end, this victory will come as a welcome relief to Aragonés, who with the score still tied 0-0, once again had to endure fans chanting the name of Real Madrid’s captain. One has to wonder whether Raùl’s absence will eventually bite the Furia Roja manager in the ass, but for now Spain can savor their victory over the World Champions. As for Italy, as I mentioned before this loss creates very little sting amongst their ranks: the Azzurri will now be waiting for their next fixture against Belgium, the last one before the Euro 2008 Swissaustria adventure begins.

Fabio Cannavaro and Gianluigi Buffon vs. Spain (March 26, 2008)


Real Federación Española de Fútbol
[Match Highlights]
 Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio
GOALSCORERS: 78’ Villa (S)
SPAIN (4-1-4-1): Casillas – Sergio Ramos (75’ Arbeloa), Puyol (18’ Albiol), Marchena, Capdevilla – Senna (59’ Xabi Alonso) – Iniesta, Xavi, Fàbregas (69’ Luis Garcia), Silva (59’ Riera) – F.Torres (46’ Villa) (bench: Reina, F.Navarro, Guiza, Juanito, De La Red). Coach: Aragones.
ITALY (4-2-3-1): Buffon – Panucci (69’ Zambrotta), F.Cannavaro, Materazzi (46’ Barzagli), Grosso – Pirlo (46’ Gattuso), De Rossi – Camoranesi, Perrotta (61’ Aquilani), Di Natale (75’ Iaquinta) – Toni (46’ Borriello). (bench: Amelia, Oddo, Ambrosini, Quagliarella). Coach: Donadoni.