Saturday, 30 June 2012

Spain v Italy: Head-to-head


Ahead of the Euro 2012 final between Spain and Italy, we rate the teams' players and coaches out of 10.

Andres Iniesta and Andrea Pirlo have been Euro 2012's outstanding players (Reuters)
The marks we have handed to the players we expect to take to the field in Kiev reflect their performances at Euro 2012 so far, rather than their overall ability or quality.
Manager: Vicente del Bosque - 6
It may seem somewhat perverse to award a rather low mark to a coach who has taken his side to the final, but that is the minimum requirement for a Spain side who have actually looked unconvincing at times. But for a save from Iker Casillas against Croatia they could have been eliminated at the group stage and they had to endure penalties to see off Portugal in the semi-final. Del Bosque's tactics in attack have also been uncertain, with a major tournament arguably not the best place to suddenly start playing Cesc Fabregas as a number nine. Meanwhile, choosing Alvaro Negredo for the position against Portugal was downright bizarre.
GK: Iker Casillas - 8
Casillas has spent large spells of Euro 2012 as a passive observer watching Spain dominate possession ahead of him, yet it is a mark of his ability that when suddenly called upon he has been up to the task. This was perfectly demonstrated when he made a fine save from Ivan Rakitic's header against Croatia and Spain's captain has been largely impeccable, conceding only once in five games at the tournament.
RB: Alvaro Arbeloa - 6
The Real Madrid defender found himself in the starting XI following an injury to Carles Puyol that pulled Sergio Ramos in from the right and he has had a mixed tournament despite playing every minute for Spain. Usually defensively sound enough, Arbeloa had a tough evening in the semi-final against Portugal when faced with attempting to contain club-mates Cristiano Ronaldo and Fabio Coentrao.
CB: Gerard Pique - 8
Another ever-present, Pique has been at his classy best at Euro 2012, combining expert defending with genuine ability on the ball. Though Antonio Di Natale posed him a few problems in Spain's opening game against Italy, Pique's signature performance was dulling the threat posed by Cristiano Ronaldo in the penalty shoot-out win over Portugal in the semi-final.
CB: Sergio Ramos - 9
Was expected to perform at right-back in Poland and Ukraine but following an injury to Puyol has struck up a superb partnership with Pique. Ramos has been arguably the best centre-back at the tournament and the way he helped nullify Ronaldo in the semi-final was a masterpiece of athleticism and anticipation. The Real Madrid defender also had the audacity to chip home a Panenka penalty in the shoot-out, demonstrating his burgeoning confidence following a fine run of form.
LB: Jordi Alba - 9
One of the revelations of the tournament. Alba had only won five caps for Spain prior to the start of the finals but his energetic performances down the left have been a key feature of their success to date. Alba has combined well with Iniesta and has brought penetration and energy to a Spain side that is otherwise focused on mesmeric passing. It was no surprise to learn he has earned a move to Barcelona from Valencia.
CM: Sergio Busquets - 7
Performs a crucial role for Spain as he looks to destroy while his more coveted team-mates create. That may be a bit of a generalisation, as Busquets is also a passer of some repute himself, but the Barcelona star is generally happy to let others take the limelight. His unfussy displays - characterised by important interceptions and high-tempo pressing - have helped Spain to dominate game after game after game.
CM: Xavi - 8
The global master of passing is yet to pick up an assist at these finals and there is an argument that Xavi has been a touch below his best, after all it was the Barcelona midfielder who was surprisingly sacrificed by Del Bosque when Spain brought on Jesus Navas just before the onset of extra time against Portugal. However, Xavi has of course been key in imposing Spain's tiki-taka, his 136 passes against Ireland setting a new record for the European Championship, and even when not at his peak he remains a class apart.
CM: Xabi Alonso - 8
Alonso has performed with class and composure alongside Xavi in a deep position and settled the quarter-final against France with two goals on his 100th international appearance. It is not often that Alonso's work overshadows that of Xavi but his match-winning performance against France did just that.
AM: Andres Iniesta - 9
Simply sublime. Iniesta has been surpassed by only Andrea Pirlo at these finals and has been largely untouchable for Spain. His faultless use of the ball has allowed la Roja to dominate their opponents at almost every turn, while his assist for Navas against Croatia proved crucial in a tense contest. Whether operating off the left or through the centre, Iniesta has been the nerve centre of Spain's passing game.
AM: Cesc Fabregas - 7
Has flitted in and out of the team with Del Bosque failing to make up his mind over whether to play Fabregas as a false nine or Torres or Negredo as a more conventional striker. Fabregas has performed the role well when required, scoring against both Spain and Ireland in the group stage as well as helping to create the goal against Croatia when dropping off the front. His fluid movement and clever link-up play has been an asset when faced with sides intent on stifling Spain.
AM: David Silva - 8
Silva started the finals at a canter, claiming three assists and a goal in Spain's opening two games, but has tailed off a touch, his performance in the semi-final against Portugal coming as a disappointment. Is vulnerable to an early departure if Spain are struggling to break opponents down but generally the Manchester City star has been in excellent form, his movement and use of the ball essential to Spain's attacking strategy.
TEAM TOTAL: 93/120
Manager: Cesare Prandelli - 9
The former Fiorentina boss has been the most tactically diverse of any coach at Euro 2012, starting out with a back three and then switching to a back four for the final group game against Ireland. The way he steered Italy past England and Germany in the knockout stages, playing ambitious, positive football, was hugely impressive. Prandelli has brought the best out of players such as Mario Balotelli while coping with injury problems in defence and has been the best coach at the tournament.
GK: Gianluigi Buffon - 8
A near faultless tournament for the man who, along with Sunday's opponent, is one of the globe's very best goalkeepers. Buffon has conceded only three goals in five games and Italy rely heavily on his authority and extreme ability in the penalty area.
RB: Ignazio Abate - 7
Came in to face Ireland for the final group game in place of the more attacking Christian Maggio as Prandelli switched to a back four and was very impressive in the quarter-final victory over England. He missed the semi-final against Germany due to injury but is expected to return as Italy look to shackle Andres Iniesta.
CB: Andrea Barzagli - 7
Returned from injury to play against Ireland and has been a calming presence in the knockout stages. Barzagli, a title-winner with Juventus, is a certain pick whether Italy play with a back three or a back four, as they are expected to do against Spain.
CB: Leonardo Bonucci - 8
His place seemed in doubt prior to the tournament when he was linked with the match-fixing investigation gripping Italian football, but the Juve defender has had an impressive campaign. He was dropped against Ireland as Barzagli returned to the side but then came on as a substitute for the injured Chiellini and has kept his place ever since, his form forcing Chiellini to move to left-back. Bonucci made a number of important tackles in the first two group games and has grown as the tournament has progressed.
LB: Giorgio Chiellini - 7
Returned from injury for the semi-final victory over Germany and is expected to be deployed at left-back again as he offers a more commanding defensive presence than Federico Balzaretti. Chiellini is a beast of a defender and has been a key component of a well-functioning and flexible Italy defence.
DM: Daniele De Rossi - 9
Was shunted into an unfamiliar defensive role for the first game against Spain but coped superbly with the challenge of keeping out world football's most talented side. The Roma vice-captain has been in fine form for the Azzurri and slotted naturally back into midfield for the final group game, where he has remained ever since. His snappy tackling and sharp passing has been a prominent feature of Italy's play.
CM: Claudio Marchisio - 7
His versatility makes him an asset across midfield and the Juventus star has played to a good level at Euro 2012. Marchisio has demonstrated in Poland and Ukraine he has an eye for goal but is yet to register on the scoresheet. It is his energy and application, whether in attacking or defensive phases, that has been impressive, as well as the way he helps bring the best out of Pirlo.
CM: Andrea Pirlo - 10
The player of the tournament so far. Pirlo's performance against a daunting Spain midfield in Italy's first game was sublime as he created Antonio Di Natale's opener with a glorious run and pass. Pirlo then curled home a free kick against Croatia and continued to provide a threat from set-pieces against Ireland. His wonderful movement, vision and passing ability overwhelmed England and he excelled again in the semi-final victory over Germany. Peerless.
CM: Riccardo Montolivo - 7
Montolivo made his first start of Euro 2012 in the quarter-final against England and impressed in an advanced role behind the strikers. He has the ability to open up a defence with a cute pass and is a threat when moving between the lines. It was his pass over the top that set Mario Balotelli away for his second goal against Germany.
ST: Antonio Cassano - 8
Impressed with his creative play against both Spain and Croatia and scored Italy's opening goal in their group win over Ireland. The Milan forward's participation in the tournament was in grave doubt when he required heart surgery in November but he has always been a favourite of Prandelli and is rewarding the coach with some vibrant performances, not least when teeing up Balotelli for the opening goal against Germany.
ST: Mario Balotelli - 8
Made an indelible mark on the tournament with his two goals against Germany and also scored a fine effort in the group stage against Ireland. Balotelli had actually lost his starting place to Antonio Di Natale for the Ireland game but his superior link-up play with Cassano in attack has seen him installed as Prandelli's leading striker.
TEAM TOTAL: 95/120

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