It will also be two years until we’re graced with another great international soccer tournament. One can’t get too excited about U.S. World Cup qualifying against the likes of Guatemala and Jamaica. Copa America happens every two years and includes teams from other continents, so it loses some of its luster. Sunday’s finale between Spain and Italy is all we’ve got left, so I really hope the game delivers. With that in mind, here are five questions to get you ready for 90 (and possibly more) frenetic minutes.
1. Will this game be as boring as the other recent games involving Spain?
I really hope not. I understand the theory that controlling the ball when you’re winning is better than having to play defense, but Spain wasn’t able to score any goals against Portugal. They put themselves at major risk by not being aggressive until the overtime period. It’s true that Portugal’s pressure defense caused a lower passing rate and more turnovers than what Spain is used to, but Spain didn’t adjust until late in the contest when Portugal tired a little bit. The first game against Italy was reasonably exciting with both teams sharing possession and creating opportunities. The quality of the game might actually depend on what formation Italy plays, so…
2. Why does Italy’s formation impact the outcome so much?
The first time these two teams met, Italy played a 3-5-2 that really surprised Spain. The addition of another midfielder allowed Italy to pressure Spain and also maintain a fair amount of possession. With Spain playing Fabergas as a false nine (the most overused phrase of the tournament to describe the passive nature of Spain’s “striker” when it’s really a midfielder), Italy didn’t have to worry about their defense being with speed or long balls. They’ve since switched to a 4-4-2 because it was best suited for their other opponents. The fact that Spain knows Italy can vary their formation must be troubling because they might come out prepared to play one of them and Italy could show up playing other, so…
3. What formation will Italy play on Sunday?
Italy should take a chance with the 3-5-2 because will have Danielle De Rossi as one of their five midfielders. If Spain starts Fabergas at striker, then he’ll stay as a midfielder. If Spain decides to start Torres or another true striker, De Rossi is flexible enough to move back as a central defender. I also think Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque is a stubborn f*ck and wants to prove to everyone he knows what he’s doing. Despite the fact that Torres had more chances in 30 minutes than Fabergas had in the first game, he’ll likely go with Fabergas.
4. Where can Spain find an advantage?
Outside of starting Torres at striker (yes, he hasn’t been in great form, but he did score two goals in their second game and at least poses a threat compared to what Negredo did last game), the biggest advantage for Spain will come down the wings. One can’t expect Del Bosque to make the start move and start a true winger like Pedro Rodríguez or Jesús Navas for David Silva. Silva has only finished one of Spain’s four games, so he’s obviously not living up to his potential. Even with Silva still in there, look for Jordi Alba and Álvaro Arbeloa to attack the sides of the Italian defense. This will be more effective if Torres starts up front so they can fling balls into the box for him.
5. Who will win?
I really want Italy to win because they’ve been in the best form of any team the last three games while Spain has plodded through this tournament. I feel like Del Bosque needs to be proven wrong or else Spain’s recent style sets back the quality of the beautiful game. Italy’s fate rests mostly on the shoulders of Mario Balotelli, who’s played as well as he ever has and he’s only 21, and Andrea Pirlo. If those two players are at their best, Italy has a damn good shot. Sadly I think it’ll be the usual possession game from Spain which doesn’t result in progression towards the goal and they’ll somehow stifle the Italians.
Spain hasn’t given up a goal since they played Italy in their first game. They’ll rely on their defense and somehow manage a goal. And if this turns out to be a reverse jinx, then so be it…
Final Score: Spain 1 Italy 0
Spain to win in 90 minutes (+120)
Under 1.5 total goals in 90 minutes (+150)
Both teams will not score in the match (-140)
Spain to win the second half (+150)