Jun 26, 2013, 8:55 PM EST
The questions start with last summer’s Euro 2012 final and boil down to the same purpose – trying to determine how Italy can beat Spain. There’s always the Switzerland and United States model – sit deep, disrupt in midfield as the attack approaches the final third, hope fortune shines on your counterattack – but aside from that kind of low percentage play, is there any way the Azzurri can compete with the reigning World Champions?
In fairness to Cesare Prandelli’s side, it’s unclear anybody in the world can go toe-to-toe with Vicente del Bosque’s armada. Since shaking the monkey off their back in 2008, Spain’s swagger’s matched their talent, with only two teams able to meaningfully compete with the Spanairds without resorting to the sit-and-wait model. In 2010, Bert van Maarwijk’s Dutch side chose a deplorably cynical approach in taking Spain to extra time in South Africa, while Portugal may have legitimately outplayed the Furia Roja in the semifinals of last summer’s European Championships.
Along the way, Spain have claimed two major titles while coming to the verge of one of their last unclaimed trophy. So if Italy shouldn’t play like the Dutch, can’t play like the Portuguese, and probably won’t play like the Swiss or Americans, what’s left?
Courage, is what Prandelli might say. That was the value he espoused in the lead up to the Brazil match, and although Italy lost that group stage battle 4-2, they showed better than they did in last year’s European final. If the Italians can play with the same vigor on Thursday, they ‘ll live with whatever outcome befalls them.
The truth of this tournament is that outcomes don’t matter a lot. Yes, you always want to play your best, but nobody’s going to cry over having failed to claim the Confederations Cup. So if Italy can play with heart, stay strong defensively while executing going forward, they’ll live with the result. Building from 2010′s disappointment, theirs is still a process, once which culminates with next year’s World Cup.
Particularly with Mario Balotelli out, Italy may have to look for signs of progress rather than watershed results. That means getting a better performance in goal from Gianluigi Buffon. That means making sure the defense can plug the holes. Can the midfield compete with Spain’s dynamos? And is there an attacker that can show Italy need not be so dependent on Mario Balotelli?
For Spain, however, the results do matter, just as they always do whenever their first team players play. Any slip sends chinks into the armor of invincibility that’s be built despite their periodic upsets. If a team like Italy does go toe-to-toe, does compete with the armada, then there’s no reason Argentina, Germany, and perhaps Brazil can’t do the same.
Four-nil is the benchmark carried over from last year, but Spain doesn’t need to replicate that to maintain their perch. Nor do they need Jordi Alba, the left back who scored twice against Nigeria, to keep up his goal-scoring ways in order to build on what they’ve done. While it would help of Roberto Soldado firmed up his place in the team or Cesc Fabregas justified del Bosque’s selection, what Spain really needs is for Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, and Sergio Busquets to play as they did against Spain. They need Sergio Ramos and Gerard Piqué to continue to be the ultimate insurance policies. And they need Iker Casillas to be the man he was two years ago.
If all that happens, Thursday’s game in Fortaleza should be similar to most Spanish national team games: Entralling but predictable – reaffirming the hegemonic state of the current soccer world.
Dec 6, 2013, 11:24 PM EST
It appears that Arsene Wenger will remain a Gunner for at least three more years, with a contract extension reportedly near completion.
Dec 6, 2013, 10:39 PM EST
With injuries putting Robin van Persie on more and more of an island at Old Trafford, are troubling times creating a stir in the dressing room?
Dec 6, 2013, 9:58 PM EST
Cameras caught the main man of English soccer laughing and making a throat-slash gesture when England were selected into their devilish group.
Dec 6, 2013, 9:22 PM EST
Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales were all part of the 2009 MLS Cup winning side – and they are still on top of it all:
Dec 6, 2013, 8:46 PM EST
The Germans and Ghanans alike are ready to watch the Boateng brothers square off, and US nemesis Asamoah Gyan has vowed to escape into the knockout phase.
Dec 6, 2013, 8:10 PM EST
Where to watch all the games from Week 15, right here:
MLS Cup preview: Real Salt Lake meets Sporting Kansas City to decide Major League Soccer’s 18th championship
Dec 6, 2013, 7:33 PM EST
Two well-regarded American coaches, two super defenses and record cold temperatures are the dominant sub-plots:
Dec 6, 2013, 7:00 PM EST
Could one very hard-to-read Frenchman be the key to Real Salt Lake’s title chances?
Dec 6, 2013, 6:21 PM EST
Given the crippling equatorial heat in Manaus, England and Italy will lobby FIFA to build drinks breaks into matches. The United States is also set to play a match in the Amazonian city.
Dec 6, 2013, 5:45 PM EST
Two Best XI players and 2012′s Goalkeeper of the Year will be Sporting’s key men on Saturday.
Dec 6, 2013, 5:05 PM EST
The German boss smiled upon FIFA’s placement of his country with the United States. The rest of the country remains confident that the group stage is just the beginning for Germany.
Dec 6, 2013, 4:30 PM EST
Will the Three Lions roar to victory in Brazil? The answer is… probably not:
Dec 6, 2013, 4:29 PM EST
One team that could have not asked for a better World Cup draw is non other than two-time World Cup champion, Argentina. Being drawn into Group F with Bosnia, Iran, and Nigeria; the South Americans are already expected to have a place in the Round of 16 and even already in the quarterfinals since they…
Dec 6, 2013, 4:00 PM EST
If RSL’s number nine is healthy, this is an easy call. If not, Saturday’s visitors may still have the edge.
Dec 6, 2013, 3:46 PM EST
Star Cristiano Ronaldo, manager Paulo Bento, and former international Luis Figo all acknowledged Germany’s presence will make things difficult but remained hopeful of Portugal’s chances in the group.
Dec 6, 2013, 3:30 PM EST
The formations are different but the roles are similar for Sporting, RSL’s midfields.
Dec 6, 2013, 3:18 PM EST
Some of the massive games we can look forward to in the opening stages of the World Cup:
Dec 6, 2013, 2:59 PM EST
Real Salt Lake captain and USMNT midfielder, Kyle Beckerman, was caught by the media in the MLS World Cup Draw party in Kansas City. The holding midfielder sounded calm with a hint of resignation about the unkind USMNT World Cup draw that has put them against Portugal, Germany and Ghana on what many people claim to be this…
Dec 6, 2013, 2:47 PM EST
It’ll take a lot of work for any of CONCACAF’s four teams to find their way out of group play at the 2014 World Cup, though for some it will be easier than others.
Dec 6, 2013, 2:42 PM EST
The USMNT forward has shed some light, if vaguely, on what his immediate future might hold as he gears up for Brazil 2014.
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