Euro 2012 Final Preview: Spain v Italy

So after three weeks of competition, Euro 2012 reaches its climax tonight when Kiev hosts the final between Spain and Italy – previewed extensively by Sport-locker.net

PASSING APPROACH REAPING LIMITED REWARDS FOR SPAIN

Castrol EDGE Performance data reveals that although Spain are becoming better and better at their “tiki-taka” approach to tournament matches, it is having a limited effect in the final third.

At Euro 2012 so far, Spain have attempted nearly 700 passes per 90 minutes, over 100 more than any other side at the tournament, highlighting their domination of the ball. This total is also significantly more than any other side has managed at either a European Championships or a World Cup since 1980:

The Spaniards have made a dramatic improvement on their performance from the 2010 World Cup, making over 100 passes more per 90 minutes so far. However this has not resulted in an improved number of shots. In fact, the number of shots Spain have made per 90 minutes has dropped in each of the last three major tournaments since the 2006 World Cup:

Andres Iniesta’s failure to find the net at EURO 2012 so far is a prime example of Spain’s struggle to make the most of their possession. Indeed, no player has mustered more shots during the tournament without scoring, a record the Barcelona schemer will no doubt be hoping to consign to the dustbin against Italy in the final.

Spain’s style may be the envy of the world, but it is worth bearing in mind that it is not geared towards attacking play, but rather for preventing the opponent getting the ball and scoring themselves.

THE SPANISH FORTRESS

With eight of Spain’s last 13 games at major tournaments finishing with just one goal or fewer scored, the key for La Roja has been a solid defence. Incredibly, they have now gone nine knockout games without conceding goal at major tournaments – meaning they have not shipped a goal after the group stages in three straight European Championships and World Cups.

One of the key reasons for their defensive success in the current tournament has been the partnership between Gerard Piqué and Sergio Ramos. Only two players have made more clearances than the Barcelona man, while only one has made more tackles than his Real Madrid counterpart:

SUPER MARIO IN THE FORM OF HIS LIFE

Against a highly-fancied German side in the semi-finals, Italy produced a shock result, defeating Jogi Loew’s gifted young side by a 2-1 scoreline. While superb organisation and hard work were always going to be key in this clash, it was the brilliance of Mario Balotelli which made the difference on the night, with the Manchester City man netting both Italy’s goals. According to Castrol EDGE Performance data, the controversial striker has now netted a joint-high three goals while his haul of 10 shots on target at EURO 201 is an outright tournament high.

Indeed, only Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo has mustered more shots overall at EURO 2012 than Balotelli, as the muscular hitman starts to rediscover his best form for the Azzurri.

Not afraid to try his luck from long-range, just under half (47%) of his shots have come from outside the box.

Balotelli’s strike partner, the experienced Antonio Cassano, has also enjoyed a superb tournament so far, with the former Real Madrid man providing the superb cross for Balotell’s opener against Germany in the semi-final. 

So far in UEFA EURO 2012™, Cassano has created 16 goal-scoring chances for teammates from open play, the joint-highest figure so far, as he blossoms in second-striker role for the Azzurri.

With Balotelli currently in the form of his life, and Cassano producing the goods, Spain will need to be at their very best defensively to stop Italy from taking their Euro crown away from them.

HUNGER FOR THE BALL KEY TO AZZURRI SUCCESS AT UEFA EURO 2012™ 

While Italy and Spain will contest the last game of UEFA EURO 2012™, the two giants of European football also opened their accounts in the competition against each other, on June 10th in Group C. While that game ended in a 1-1 draw, Castrol EDGE Performance analysis shows that despite allowing La Roja the majority of the possession, the Italians’ hard work paid dividends, with Cesare Prandelli’s side winning 100% of their tackles. 

Only one other team in the whole of UEFA EURO 2012™ has managed to win every single one of their tackles in a game (Denmark v Netherlands) and this desire to win the ball minimised the time and space the likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta had on the ball.

 Spain v Italy: Can del Bosque’s men pass their way to victory?

In the Euro 2012 final, Spain will look to dominate possession and pass their way to victory over an Italian team who have surprised many by reaching the final. However, Castrol EDGE Performance data shows that five of the last eight champions had less possession than their opponents during the final.  Most remarkably, Greece beat Portugal 1-0 in 2004, despite only having 36.97% of possession and only one shot on target during the match.  

Possession is therefore a poor indicator of success and Spain will need to turn passes into goal scoring opportunities if they are to succeed on Sunday night. Since 1980, the team with more shots has won six out of eight European championships.  

European Championship Finals since 1980

So who will be crowned the winners of Euro 2012 tonight? Let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter and Facebook pages.

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