Posts Tagged ‘Euro 2008’

Euro 2008 – Spain vs. Italy Preview: Furia Roja & Azzurri in a Classic Red vs. Blue Encounter

Saturday, June 21st, 2008

Bring out the castanets and wake up the opera singers: on Sunday, Spain and Italy will step onto Vienna’s Ernst Happel stadium ready to dance, and it will surely be a very hot-blooded affair.

Two teams with common linguistical heritage but radically different styles of play, the Azzurri and La Furia Roja have also arrived at Euro 2008′s Quarter-Finals following opposite routes. Italy (as we all know) had a very rocky start in its first two games vs. Netherlands and vs. Romania, but finally picked up the pace vs. France thus grabbing second spot in group C on the last matchday. Spain on the other hand comfortably qualified for the next round on matchday 2, and could even afford to field its reserve team in the final match vs. Greece (winning it with a score of 2-1). Compared to the Italians therefore, the Spaniards have enjoyed an additional 2-3 days of rest in order to prepare for Sunday, and also have the added advantage of not having any injured/suspended players.

Rest however, did not help the Netherlands much vs. Russia today and teams should always be careful in starting too strongly in a competition. Indeed, if there is one thing that can be said of each of the current Euro 2008 Semi-finalists (Germany, Turkey, and Russia) is that all of them have lost one match in the group stage. So the question is: will Spain break this trend by being the first Semi-Finalist with a perfect record, or will Italy be the 4th team to complete this “we’re not perfect but we get the job done” picture?

Pre-Match Statistics

• Competitive meetings between the two southern European giants have been few and far between, but Spain have yet to beat Italy in five attempts.
• The most high-profile encounter took place at the 1994 World Cup, where Italy controversially won 2-1 in Boston courtesy of a late winning goal from star player Roberto Baggio. For the Spaniards however, that match is mostly remembered due to an in-game incident (not seen by the referee) during which Italian defender Mauro Tassotti elbowed Spanish midfielder Luis Enrique, fracturing his nose. Tassotti received an 8-match ban for his infraction, but at that point Spain were already out of the tournament and couldn’t care less.
Gianluca Vialli scored the only goal of the game when the two teams last met at the EURO Championship finals, in 1988 at Frankfurt’s Waldstadion.
• The most recent encounter ended 1-0 for Spain in Elche on 26.03.2008 (full report here on mCalcio) thanks to substitute David Villa’s goal twelve minutes from time. The previous meeting took place on 28.04.2004, with Fernando Torres opening the scoring for Spain and Christian Vieri equalising for Italy.
• Spain have not beaten Italy in a competitive match since the 1920 Antwerp Olympics in Belgium. That was 88 years ago.

.

Head-to-head Spain vs. Italy

Competition
Played
Wins
Spain
Draws
Wins
Italy
Euro Championship
2
0
1
1
World Cup
3
0
1
2
Others
22
8
8
6
Total
27
8
10
9

Meetings in official competitions
Date
Venue
Competition
Match
Result
09.07.1994
Boston (USA)
World Cup (Quarter-final)
Italy – Spain
2-1
14.06.1988
Frankfurt (GER)
EURO (Group stage)
Italy – Spain
2-1
12.06.1980
Milan (ITA)
EURO (Group stage)
Spain – Italy
0-0
01.06.1934
Florence (ITA)
World Cup (QF replay)
Spain – Italy
0-1
31.05.1934
Florence (ITA)
World Cup (Quarter-final)
Spain – Italy
1-1

.

Italy

 Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio

(From Gazzetta and La Repubblica ): The “Alberto Aquilani” stock is on the rise again at Casa Azzurri.

Early reports (from the closed doors training session of Saturday) initially seemed to suggest that, despite Andrea Pirlo’s one match of suspension, the Roma midfielder would once again miss out on playing a lead role at Euro 2008. This in spite of the fact that on paper, and among the roster of 23 players available to coach Roberto Donadoni (well, 22 players now after Andrea Barzagli’s injury), Aquilani is the one with skills & playing characteristics closest to the AC Milan playmaker: accurate and unpredictable passing ability, great ball control, and a fairly good capacity at interdiction.

On the downside however, the Roma midfielder’s “cons” aren’t to be understimated: less experience, less personality perhaps, and the fact that in order to prevent Spain from pushing the “lethal-one-touch-passing” button too early, Italy will need to be very aggressive. Something over which Roberto Donadoni will undoubtedly ponder some more, before he makes his final decision on the day of the match. “Aquilani is on the rise” said Donadoni. “He is working hard just like everyone else, be it players or staff, and he has what it takes to be there tomorrow. He is one of the many options we have and in which our players are fully confident in.”

In other words (and much to Donadoni’s habit): we shall see later. Tactically however, Italy’s midfield should be the only real issue left for the anti-Spain line-up. With the now fully estblished Zambrotta-Chiellini-Panucci-Grosso backline (not that there are many alternatives) and the likely confirmation of the Cassano-Toni duo up front, the Italian coach can focus on deciding who to pick in the middle. The likely certainties: Daniele De Rossi (who has probably clinched a starting spot till the end, should Italy advance) and Massimo Ambrosini (a natural substitute for suspended Gennaro Gattuso). Simone Perrotta, whose work against France in an offensive playmaking role was appreciated by Donadoni, should also likely be confirmed. So it basically comes down to that third central midfielder role: Aquilani or Camoranesi? Odds are Donadoni will be pointing towards the former..

.

Buffon
Zambrotta, Panucci, Chiellini, Grosso
Aquilani (or Camoranesi), De Rossi, Ambrosini
Perrotta
Toni, Cassano

.

But speaking of Donadoni, who knows how many times he must have relived his Azzurri adventure during these 2-3 weeks of Euro 2008. It is a journey to which the Italian coach has given “body and soul” as he says, and now has a great chance to show everyone what he is made of. After the match against France, his dream is play matador against Spain (matar means “to kill” in Spanish) but to do that, he will need a determination that has never been seen before.

Spain,” Donadoni explained in his Saturday press conference, “are a strong team with great individual players. They have excellent players who haven’t achieved the same results in the national side as with their respective clubs. That’s why they will be very hungry to win.” These words have a logical conclusion: “We need to play with the same will they have and we must be as hungry to win as they are.” Thus, it will be necessary to focus. It will be necessary to pay very close attention and play well. Above all: it will be necessary to score.

When talking about scoring, one can only think of Luca Toni and his unlucky streak of missed chances (the Bayern giant played 415 minutes of draught at Euro 2008 so far). “I don’t care about statistics. I care about concrete results,” says the Italian coach. “Obviously, I hope he scores tomorrow because it’s always important for a striker to score goals; but as far as I’m concerned Luca pulled a double against France: he won the penalty and Abidal’s expulsion.”

In sum, Donadoni has the task to maintain the group united, despite the daily attacks from the critics. He has been many times in a “last resort” situation; he defended himself and continues to do so. “I don’t feel as if I had been run over by a train,” he emphasises. “Italy arrived to this point after having won well against France.” Heavenly words. And he ends the press conference with a message that highlights and builds on his humility, as if he wanted to apologize to someone: “Regardless of tomorrow’s score, our work done here should be valued as a whole: and I believe that together with my staff, we have given body and soul: I have done what was humanly possible. And to the fans, I ask this: to believe in what we have done. We must be a united front.”
.

Spain

(From La Repubblica and Goal.com): Luis Aragones’ men are on fire: roaring into the last eight after finishing top of Group D with maximum points, the Spaniards have scored 8 goals in 3 games and will go into this match as many people’s favourites to progress to the semi-finals. On top of their good start to Euro 2008, Spain have also won all seven of their fixtures this year, including pre-Euro warm-up wins against France, USA, Peru, and Italy themselves.

However, while Spain are certainly in better form than Italy, they have a dreadful competitive record against their opponents whom they have not managed to beat since the 1920 Summer Olympics at Antwerp. Also, Spain’s very good Euro 2008 debut bears the inevitable question: “will Spain once again flop when it really matters“? We have seen this scenario so many times in the past where La Selección have made a flying start to a major tournament, only to then lose their nerve once it gets to a big knockout game. This was the case at the last World Cup, when the team played some delightful football in the group stages, only to then lose 3-1 to France in the second round.

Tactically, before the tournament began Spain coach Luis Aragonés experimented with 4-1-4-1 in an attempt to squeeze all his midfield talent on to the pitch, but later settled on a 4-1-3-2 formation. Spain’s recent performances indicate this was a good choice. Keeper Iker Casillas sets the tone for a well-drilled unit where Carles Puyol is the inspirational presence. He is a great reader of the game and massively committed but he and partner Carlos Marchena can expect an aerial examination from Luca Toni.

Spain have an embarrassment of riches in midfield with half a dozen fast-moving, neat-passing players who are virtually interchangeable. Marcos Senna is a crafty interdictor for Spain who offers a mobile screen in front of the back four, though Xabi Alonso is pressing for a place after an excellent display against Greece. Finally, Spain have a very mobile front duo in David Villa (4 goals from 2 games so far) and Fernando Torres, two players complementing each other perfectly: Torres is the athlete who passes defenders with ease and can hit the byline like a winger, while Villa is more of a predator but also dangerous with free kicks.

Based on Spain’s tactical display so far, this should be their expected formation for Sunday:

.

Casillas
Ramos, Puyol, Marchena, Capdevila
Senna
Iniesta, Xavi, Silva
Villa, Torres

.

To mark the importance of Sunday’s match vs. Italy (not only in sporting terms but also political) Spain’s own king Juan Carlos will be attending, accompanied by his companion Queen Sofia. José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the Spanish Prime Minister, also set the tone yesterday when he urged the Spanish team to “break the curse” of its “lack of self-confidence” and predicted his nation’s victory by a score of 3-2.

Spain’s players however, despite maintaing their confidence, know this will not be an easy match. “Spain did well in the group stage, but we are nonetheless the underdogs here“. said Real Madrid and Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas. “Italy are the favorites in light of their football history, and the fact they have reached more finals and won more titles than Spain. Spain have only won one European championship and that was a really long time ago. We must continue with the spirit and play demonstrated so far, because Italy will always be Italy“.

Strangely, despite being one of his brothers-in-arms (bad pun intended), Casillas doesn’t rate Gigi Buffon as the number 1 player of the Azzurri (which soon-to-be Juventus teammate Xabi Alonso defined as “one of the best goalkeepers in the world, if not the best”). Instead (and perhaps expectedly, since his job is to prevent the ball from entering the net), he points the finger a Luca Toni, whose goal drought has become an obsession for the Spanish media, deeply convinced that LucaBomber will “wake up” precisely against Spain. “We will have to be very careful on set pieces, because Toni is very tall. If we manage to block him, we will be on the right track to get rid of our quarter-final curse once and for all” concluded the Spanish nº1.

.

Spain vs. Italy, kick-off time 20:45 CET

.

FORZA AZZURRI

.

Azzurri Videos of the Day: De Rossi Juggling, Buffon Goalkeeping, Del Piero & Aquilani One-on-One, and Cassano… Getting a Manicure

Friday, June 20th, 2008

Yup, you’ve read that right. Spain vs. Italy is in two days, and everyone prepares differently at “Casa Azzurri”. Maybe Talentino has a “Hand of God” prepared for Sunday and wants the picture to look good…
.

Daniele De Rossi juggling:


.

Gigi Buffon Goalkeeping drills:


.

Alessandro Del Piero vs. Alberto Aquilani:
(ADP clearly wins by the way)


.

Antonio Cassano cleaning his fingernails, while everyone else is running their ass off on the field.
And yes… once again… he’s in his underwear, can you believe it?

Ok in his defense half the team seemed to be taking a break (he sits next to Pirlo and De Rossi at the end of the vid). That’s still no reason to show us your undies Antonio!! :evil:

Later on, Cassano proceeded to stick his finger into Gennaro Gattuso’s mouth, after which Ringhio somehow blamed Daniele De Rossi for it. :] With these two, I’m sure that fighting boredom is never a lost battle for the Azzurri.

France vs. Italy in 30 Pictures

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

Since I’m in an “uploading-pictures” kind of mood, here are selected snapshots of Euro 2008′s France vs. Italy match two days ago. Emphasis on “selected” (i.e. by me, because I thought they were funny and because I just can).

Also, since every self-respecting picture should include a caption, I have provided two for each. By hovering over the picture, the real (serious/boring) caption (as well as any photo credits) will pop up. Below the picture, a funnier (I hope) version of the same caption by me.

Note that with regards to the match timeline, pictures are in no particular chronological order.

Enjoy!
.
(more…)

Azzurri Tee Time

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

After a pretty rough week of group stage games (resolved in extremis only on the last matchday), the Italian team was given a day of rest today. Time for Roberto Donadoni, Alessandro Del Piero, and Mauro Camoranesi to practice their swings. :)

Donadoni played in a threesome with goalkeeping coach Ivano Bordon and team physician Andrea Ferretti, while Alessandro Del Piero and Mauro Camoranesi played in another group at Fontana Golf Club, site of the recent Austria Open and just down the road from Italy’s hotel.
.
(more…)

Euro 2008: France 0-2 Italy – Azzurri Step Out of the Grave and into the Quarter-Finals

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

France 0-2 Italy. Ladies & gentlemen, this is how you mix a “Blue Lagoon”: 1 oz Vodka (Pirlo), 1 oz Blue Curaçao (De Rossi), cherry (Buffon’s save on Benzema), 1 part Lemonade. Don’t have any lemonade? We’ll settle for some Oranje zest (Huntelaar and Van Persie). The Azzurri’s Euro 2008 adventure continues to the Quarter-Finals. With rage. That of Andrea Pirlo, master sniper from the spot, and Daniele De Rossi, serving a thundering set-piece drive into the net.

It would be hasty to say “the World Champions are back”, but they’re on the right track. Today, the team looked in better shape, more motivated, more concentrated. And luck, the factor the Azzurri were so cruelly lacking until now, finally lent a helping hand to Roberto Donadoni & Co. France’s match went from bad (Franck Ribery’s injury in the 10th) to worse (Eric Abidal’s foul on Luca Toni inside the box, and resulting red card) in less than 15 minutes, and Thierry Henry’s deflection on Daniele De Rossi’s 62nd-minute free-kick was just the ultimate insult for Raymond Domenech, who will undoubtedly have to step down following his team’s elimination.

Not Roberto Donadoni. The Italian coach lives to fight another day with the Azzurri, who will now be facing Spain in the Euro 2008 Quarter-Finals. With still some doubts to erase (Who will replace the suspended Pirlo and Gattuso? When will Luca Toni finally release his goalscoring power?) but with a significant morale booster. Beating France will always do that to ya…

Tactically, Italian coach Roberto Donadoni decided to make two changes for today’s match: full confidence in Gennaro Gattuso and Antonio Cassano. Italy’s 4-3-2-1 formation looked a lot like AC Milan’s Xmas tree formation, with Talentino and Simone Perrotta providing support behind Luca Toni. In midfield, except for Daniele De Rossi this was vintage Rossoneri set-up: Gattuso and Pirlo providing the core of play for the Azzurri (the former to win the ball back, the latter to distribute it forward). As for the back line, no doubts there: Zambrotta and Grosso on the wings, Panucci & Chiellini in the middle.

On the other end, France’s Raymond Domenech made a bold move by leaving veteran center-back (and captain) Lilian Thuram on the bench. Some may say Thuram’s past his expiration date, but his replacement today (Eric Abidal) would later prove playing center-back’s not his thing. Other changes made by Les Bleus included François Clerc replacing Sagnol as right-back and Karim Benzema subbing in for Florent Malouda.

France started the match with rage. Concentrated. Motivated. The Azzurri weren’t inferior to the task. Italy’s passing experts (Pirlo, Cassano, Zambrotta, Grosso) immediately got to work, and it took them only 4 minutes to set up Luca Toni in the clear (after a missed touch by Abidal), precisely through a deep pass of the Lyon wing-back. LucaBomber however shot wide, adding to his unfortunate series of missed chances at Euro 2008 (a list which would only get longer as the match progressed).

In minute 8, the first turning point of match: Franck Ribery went down while trying to challenge Zambrotta off the ball (getting entangled in the Italian wing-back’s legs). Knee injury and game over for Franck, enter Samir Nasri. 30% of France’s penetration power had just been stretchered off, something which the Azzurri certainly weren’t lacking today. Christian Panucci tried to put his golden noggin to work (minute 11), finding only Makelele to deny him the joy of his second at Euro 2008. 10 minutes later a good service by Pirlo was narrowly missed by Perrotta inside the box. The Azzurri were fighting.

In minute 25, the second (and decisive) turning point: a great ball by Pirlo found Luca Toni through on goal inside the box. Luca hooked the ball and was ready for the finish, until Eric Abidal upended him from behind sending the Bayern giant flying. Penalty and red card for the Barça full-back, every France fan regretting Thuram. From the spot Andrea Pirlo made no mistakes, and sent it flying into the top left corner. 1-0 Italy.

Counter-measures for Domenech had to include patching up the gaping defensive hole, so Samir Nasri promptly left his place (his matching lasting only 15 minutes) to Jean-Alain Boumsong. That effectively left Henry and Benzema rather lonely up front, with Sydney Govou as the only real solution of passing support. Not enough. The Azzurri were just having a field day meanwhile: in minute 27, Daniele De Rossi grazed the crossbar, one minute later a Cassano cross from the right found Toni inside the box, connecting with a stylish heel/bicyle flick (not sure what it was) narrowly wide of the post. Then once again Toni (exploiting a Pirlo pass) was through on goal, and once again… missed the target. Not Luca’s day obviously.

France reacted with French pride, keeping the Italian defense on their toes. A good run by Thierry Henry sent the Barça man through on the right, but his diagonal shot was inches wide of Buffon’s left post. A warning for Giorgio Chiellini, his marker on the occasion. Meanwhile, De Rossi and Gattuso were operating as the “Azzurri lions of midfield”, the latter living up to his “Ringhio” pitbull reputation and the Roma man acting almost as an added stopper (with the occasional runs forward). On one of these runs, Italy obtained a good free-kick on the edge of the box, which Fabio Grosso carefully aimed at the bottom-left corner of Gregory Coupet. France’s keeper got a hand to it, deflecting the shot onto the post. After 45 minutes, France 0-1 Italy and Romania 0-0 Netherlands: the Azzurri had their ticket to the Quarter-finals, but anything could change.

In the second half, France was back with a vengeance: first Karim Benzema exploited a good right-wing cross and connected with a slamming a howitzer wide, then Thierry Henry gave shivers to Azzurri supporters with a low shot to the ground (easily saved by Buffon). Italy was suffering in midfield (overpowered by the physical presence of Makelele and Govou) and fear was slowly re-surfacing. Time for some changes: out Andrea Pirlo (accumulating fatigue over the past 3 games), enter Massimo Ambrosini (another defensive midfielder).

Then suddenly in minute 56, some more good news arrived for the Azzurri: Netherlands had just opened the score vs. Romania through Klaas-Jan Huntelaar! Even better news would arrive just 5 minutes later, as Daniele De Rossi went for power on a Cassano-obtained free-kick, finding Henry’s boot on the way to goal. Fooled by his teammate’s deflection, Coupet was sent the wrong way, powerless. 2-0 Italy!

Cue some more changes for Donadoni: out Perrotta, enter Mauro Camoranesi. Domenech replied with Nicolas Anelka on for Govou. Not much of a change for France, who were more or less keeping afloat thanks to the creativity of Karim Benzema. His curling right-footed effort in minute 73 was destined for the top corner, but Gigi Buffon once again proved why he is the best keeper around. Then came the news of Holland’s 2-0 goal, and everyone wearing Azzurro in Zurich went nuts.

Unpack your bags guys, we are staying in Vienna!

 

.

 Fédération Française de Football FRANCE-ITALY
0-2
[Match Highlights]
 Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio
GOALSCORERS: 25’ pen. Pirlo (I), 62’ De Rossi (I)
FRANCE (4-4-2): Coupet – Clerc, Gallas, Abidal, Evra – Govou (66’ Anelka), Toulalan, Makelele, Ribery (10’ Nasri, 26’ Boumsong) – Benzema, Henry. (bench: Mandanda, Frey, Malouda, Vieira, Thuram, Squillaci, Sagnol, A.Diarra, Gomis). Coach: Domenech.
ITALY (4-3-2-1): Buffon – Zambrotta, Panucci, Chiellini, Grosso – Gattuso (82’ Aquilani), De Rossi, Pirlo (55’ Ambrosini) – Cassano, Perrotta (64’ Camoranesi) – Toni. (bench: Amelia, De Sanctis, Gamberini, Barzagli, Materazzi, Quagliarella, Del Piero, Di Natale, Borriello). Coach: Donadoni

.

France 0-2 Italy – MyVideo
.