I didn't think I was going to have to post another prediction since I've had Germany as my champion from the beginning, but Italy went and screwed everything up. They've ruined a perfectly enjoyable tournament and interjected themselves onto the biggest stage when the world is tired of seeing them. But then, this might not be true - the reality is that the tables have essentially reversed. If anything, reigning champion Spain has received the criticisms of causing boredom (perhaps a case of familiarity breeding contempt), while Italy, with the explosive Balotelli, the brilliance of Pirlo, and a master tactician of a coach in Prandelli, have captured the footballing world's wonder.
I'm not going to be able to break new ground here about historical trends, game tactics or even player selections, so I'm simply going to list possible thoughts as to why each team is destined to win. They are not based in rational logic, just my logic. Then I'll give my prediction. Again, this is about as reliable and reasonable as the Polish elephant picking melons/games.
Italy will win because:
- If Spain wins, they would be the first team to win 3 consecutive major championships. Its never been done, and they would immediately be crowned the greatest team ever in history. It would only be believable after its been accomplished. By the way, regardless of how Sunday's match turns out, they will be a odds-on favorite to hoist the 2014 WC trophy in Brazil.
- Spain is relatively punchless. They need a Messi. For a team that maintains possession for so long, they are toothless when it comes time to score. Also, it is as if they'd rather pass the ball behind the keeper. Compare that with Balotelli's desire to pulverize the net every chance he gets. (Of course, you can point to the 4 goals they put on the Irish or the 2 they knocked France out with, but that would sabotage my argument.) Against good sides, Italy, Croatia, Portugal, they managed just 2 late goals. Should Del Bosque continue to start Fabregas in, what surely is this tournament's favorite phrase, "a false-nine" role? Will he risk it with Torres? Can he get Spain to pass quicker before Italy's defense is set? Will he add some width with Navas and/or Pedro to give Iniesta and Xavi some more room inside? Conversely, Prandelli has been brilliant at deploying his formations, including a 3-5-2, and substitutes to his tactical advantage. He is purposeful, while Del Bosque seems to be experimenting. Did I really promise to not talk tactics?
- Italy has been exactly what Ronaldo and Portugal weren't - efficient on their opportunities on the counterattack. Think Di Natale's goal vs Spain and Balotelli's lash vs Germany. They are best when matched against offensively talented sides. Against non-superior teams (Irish aside) they weren't great - with only Pirlo's perfect free kick vs Croatia and a donut vs England to show for it. They won't get the lion's share of opportunities vs Spain, but they will be dangerous with the ones they get. In the first matchup with Spain, Casillas had to make more lunging saves than Buffon.
- Pirlo. Spain has a whole armada of midfielder maestros, but Italy might very well have the best one on the pitch. His weighted passes and long balls seem to have homing capabilities.
- This is not Barcelona midfielders' year. They lost La Liga. They lost Champions League. Maybe there's a reason. Maybe they're unable to sustain this kind of excellence for so long. Maybe the world is figuring this dominance out.
Spain will win because:
- Duh, they have more possession. They literally try to choke out any chance opponents have of scoring. This philosophy is so capably being carried out that neutral viewers are probably getting worked up that the other team isn't getting a chance to attack. As Aaron Sorkin would say, this ain't soccer camp, we shouldn't care if everybody gets to play.
- The Spanish defense is near impenetrable. They've allowed ONE GOAL in their 4 games so far. Granted, it was against Italy back in their first match, but their back line has been absolutely solid. Obviously, the opponents' lack of possession helps.
- Italy's upset over Germany could shake Spain out of their malaise, overconfidence, or whatever it is that's bothering them. They won't be unprepared for Balotelli.
- What's the chances that a team plays Spain twice and avoids a L both times? They might wish they kept that goal in their pocket for this one. The draw with Italy was seen as a negative for Spain, so the onus is on Spain to respond.
- Italy's only got Friday and Saturday to rest this time. Spain has an entire day more to recover. (Then again, Spain played extra time...)
- Scoring. What's the chances Spain goes 2 straight games without scoring in regulation? Italy managed only 1 non-set piece goal before the Germany match.
- Italy has Spain's number in tournament matches, having never lost in regulation. You might think that this belongs as a pro-Italy reason, but I think the odds are that its Spain's turn. At the very least, it is motivation. Listed here is the history of Italy-Spain in either a WC or Euro. Remember, Italy never lost in the first 90 minutes.
1934 World Cup 1-1
1934 World Cup 1-0 (Hmm, the 2nd mtg in the same tournament. First game ended 1-1 too...)
1980 Euro Cup 0-0
1988 Euro Cup 1-0
1994 World Cup 2-1
2008 Euro Cup 0-0 (Spain wins in PKs)
2012 Euro Cup 1-1
Euro Cup Final Prediction
I've picked against Spain in my two previous prediction posts already. First I said the Netherlands would get revenge in the semis. Then I advanced them to the final only to lose to the Germans. Now, when every unreasonable bone in my body wants to say that Italy's timely and staunch backline will frustrate Spain's slow-building attack, while Balotelli/Cassano/Di Natale will be mashing the turbo button on every counter to thrash home Pirlo's gift-wrapped legacies, I'm taking the side that what will go down as the greatest team of all time. Why wouldn't you?
Spain 1-0 (Iniesta in the 72nd minute)