Spain 1 Italy 1: Lessons from a tight opening Group C game
What did we learn from the 1-1 draw between Italy and Spain in the opening game of Group C at the European championship?
A positive result sets Spain’s defence up nicely
False predictions of what would be a dominant Spain performance before kick-off were quickly quashed as the defending champions dallied and dithered in possession ahead of a dangerous Italy team. The performance was not a vintage one from either side but they are likely to win the group ahead of Croatia and Ireland. It does set both teams up well for the next two games, with a valuable 90 minutes for a few players and encouraging displays from a couple of individuals – especially Andres Iniesta. His influence can be the catalyst which drives Spain forward in the tournament. Even without a striker, Spain can be threatening and will be a handful for anyone who tries to contain Vicente Del Bosque’s men.
Spain’s risky plan works – just!
You would expect the opponents of the world champions to deploy an overly defensive strategy and camp men behind the ball but Spain surprised everyone by naming six midfielders in their starting line-up. Previous friendlies gave us little insight into Del Bosque’s plans before the tournament – he appeared to contemplate starting Fernando Torres, a fatigued Fernando Llorente and Alvaro Negredo. But few could have guessed that neither of them would start. A poor first half passed without success but soon Spain pieced it together. Cesc Fábregas took his goal well and created space for Iniesta against a resolute Italian defence. By bringing Torres on, Spain proved their strength in depth, showing they have more than one plan to tackle this tournament.
Spain display worrying lack of tempo up front
Deploying six midfielders, all of whom can interchange at supreme speed, looked to have been a strategic surprise to counter the defensive Italians at the beginning of the evening. However, Spain persisted in playing through the centre and the holders were painfully slow in their decision making. Giorgio Chiellini and makeshift sweeper Daniele De Rossi had a straightforward half and helped themselves to the ball whenever Spain pushed forward. Del Bosque’s side emerged sharper after the break as Fábregas swept home the equaliser.
Pretty poor passing prevents Prandelli panic
Both Italy and Spain struggled to string passes together despite the likes of Xabi Alonso, Xavi and Andrea Pirlo on the pitch. Spain tried to breakdown the opposition resistance with intricate moves but reverted to a more direct style of play following Del Bosque’s team-talk at the interval. Their stray passes along the back four also put them at risk of conceding and nonchalantly dawdled at times, while Antonio Di Natale exposed a suspect Spanish defence for his goal. But it was a flat encounter and neither Spain nor Italy should be lauded in a sloppy, lacklustre spectacle.
Dangerous opener passes safely for Spain
Historically, Spain are not good starters in tournaments. They lost the opening game of the World Cup in 2010, but they proved their mettle after falling behind against Cesare Prandelli’s side. Within three minutes, Spain forced the equaliser and looked to cause more problems, particularly through Iniesta and Torres but continued to look feeble upfront. The team appeared tired, cautious and apprehensive with the ball at their feet for spells but they will have gained a lot from the game. The defending champions should make the quarter-finals comfortably and they will then be driven onwards by the determination of a third consecutive trophy.