Sunday, July 1, 2012

And The Winner Will Be...

...I have no idea.

It shouldn't be that shocking for someone to admit that they can't, with 100% accuracy, predict the future but these days we want more from our experts. We want concrete answers about what will happen. We want locks and guarantees, we want to "mark it down" and so on. We want to know. But I'm afraid that I don't. I'm not saying this to buck a trend or teach some kind of lesson, I just honestly don't know.

Spain is the better team. If both teams played to the utmost of their abilities, Spain would win this match. But Spain hasn't been playing to the utmost of their abilities this entire tournament. They were patient in the group stage and that was fine because they could afford to be based on their play order. The opening draw with Italy was expected, as was the defeat of the "glad to be here" Irish squad (don't mean that offensively, it's just obvious at this point that they were never going to make it out of that group). Croatia was a dangerous team, but Spain had the luxury of playing them when it would have taken a drastic series of events to keep the Spanish team from making the next round. So again caution was the mode of the day and it obviously served them well. The victory over France was a walk in the park due to the baffling lack of heart from the French, but it wasn't a decisive "Spain is back!" kind of win. The penalty shootout win over Portugal was even more troubling because the passing game was interfered with for the first time in forever and even when Spain recovered, they didn't do enough to win the game in regulation. If they pull it all together for the championship game, they're still the best team in the world. But who says they can do that?

Italy, on the other hand, is the in form team of this match. The 2-1 win (which was basically a 2-0 win except for that late penalty) was shocking in that a talented German team was dispatched, but it wasn't fluky or cheap in any way. Italy was the better team throughout and though they benefited from some poor German shooting they also defended incredibly well, controlled the ball when accepting possession, and finished beautifully. Plus they're effing hard. Going to penalties against England was worrying because the 0-0 score showed a potentially fatal lack of finishing, but they controlled the match from the half hour mark on and were very unlucky not to put it away three different times. Mario Balotelli provided the finishing edge for them in the last match, but other than that we only have one goal from the Antonios (Cassano and Di Natale) and one from Andrea Pirlo off a free kick. We can look at Spain and say that they've had similar problems and it would be true, but that doesn't change the fact that Italy hasn't been able to produce straight up wins against anyone but Ireland and Germany (a stranger disparity would be difficult to find). Which team shows up today with it all on the line?

I still don't know what's going to happen, but I will take a guess because that's the role that I am playing. I think that Italy is going to make this a fascinating game with their countering skill and unique forwards (seriously, for all the reasons you may dislike Cassano or Balotelli, they have been fascinating to watch in this tournament; Cassano's movement has been phenomenal and Balotelli is... well, Balotelli). I wrote before that Spain is only as exciting as the opponent they are playing and if that is true, we could be in for a hell of a game that will see Spain regain their form and show everyone why they are here trying to win their third straight major tournament. I won't speak confidently about the type of match we're going to get, but Italy's willingness to play their game regardless of who is on the field with them is incredibly refreshing and I do think it will be a good one. I also think that it will be one where Italy's finishing fails them and we see Spain do just enough to find the net and hold on for their record breaking win. It will not be easy and I would not be surprised to see it go another way, but it is what I'm going with. I wish the best of finals to us all and I hope you enjoy it wherever you are.

Spain 1-0

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