None of the quarter finals really lived up to expectations – in terms of quality that is. In terms of drama there was plenty and some more but barring an Ashravin inspired Russia, most of the football on display was fit for a league game between two mid-table teams. This one though, was a little rock-bottom even by the standards set in QF1-QF3.
With Donadoni’s selection reduced to just a couple of big decisions, and he left me unimpressed. There was never going to be any surprise in terms of the formation but the selection of Perrotta instead of the much more impactful Camoranesi seemed strange. The only logical explanation could be Camoranesi’s suspect reserves of steam, which was so evident in that second half against Romania. But surely he would still be more effective than the fairly useless Perrotta.
Cassano against France had looked hard working but non-threatening. With Toni misfiring yet being almost impossible to drop given the chances he was getting, I would have thought the choice for the second striker would be someone who on his day could be a bigger goal threat. Both del Piero or di Natale could have been worth a try. It wasn’t a change he necessarily had to make but would have been interesting if he had.
Spain started with the expected line-up and with no suspensions or injury worries their bench had as much potential as the first eleven. No real points of discussion there.
Almost no real points of discussion about the game as well. What can be discussed are the ‘could have been’ and ‘why not’ issues.
For a team like Italy to have played for penalties for 120 minutes is just inexplicable. Remember, this Italian team had not been dour and defensive coming up to this game. Poor at times yes, but never boring.
The forward runs of Grosso had been a major contributor to Italy’s attacks (and Toni’s goal-less but ever present threat) throughout this tournament, but they were mercilessly banished from the Italian armoury as Donadoni turned to Catenaccio to make up for the absence of the creative inspiration of Pirlo. Most of Grosso’s involvement came in the form of pushing the ball up-field to Ambrosini or Cassano instead of being the man who sent in the cross on so many occasions in the past.
Zambrotta on the right was more adventurous but found little link-up support with Aquiliani preferring to stay deep or add more resource to the left.
De Rossi, who performed well against the 10 of France but had looked uninspiring when playing against 11, had to be forced into coming forward, only doing so when twenty yards of space was made available.
Amrbrosini and Cassano worked hard and had shown a little bit of intent in the beginning, but soon fell in line with team strategy.
Perrotta – poor as usual. Didn’t get involved, lost challenges and gave the ball away and missed a good chance to score.
Toni – He could either have started converting some chances or turned into sh**. The latter happened. But then with the team so intent on not providing support to the front men, maybe even he didn’t feel the need to worry defenders like he usually does.
And the defence – well they are Italian and they defended. All 11 of them all the time. Almost. What do you expect?
Spain would have looked good against a more attacking team. Torres and Villa would have seen more of the ball and Xavi would have got more made some defence splitting passes. But against a defensive, taller and stronger Italian team, they had to be happy with keeping possession and feeling they were dominating.
Senna is just brilliant. Feels like Makelele with a little more creativity. And he can shoot a bit and score penalties as well. Xavi was involved a lot as well but failed to do anything that was telling. Though he did get the ball to David Silva a number of times who by virtue of being neither completely in attack or in mid-field, was allowed to receive the ball more often than others. And it was he who threatened most, running at defenders and making some interesting shots. Nothing far too spectacular but an honest effort.
Iniesta was the mid-field man to disappoint the most. Not only did he not create any moves whatsoever, he somehow managed to handle the ball when presented with a great opportunity for shooting at goal.
Among the substitutes, Fabregas made some impact. Cazorla proved to be a pair of fresh legs and not much more but Fabregas did manage to make two telling passes – One over the defence to Villa’s feet and the other splitting the defence to Guiza (or maybe Villa or Silva...). Guiza’s performance showed why Torres should not be substituted.
For the Italians, Camoransei made an impact by conjuring the best chance of the match which was well blocked by Casillas. De Natale didn’t do much until screwing up his penalty and there was little logic to bringing del Piero on for the last five minutes. Especially as he didn’t even take a penalty.
Donadoni can say that he was limited in choice with Pirlo and Gattusso not available but he was guilty of not trusting his replacements enough. He was also guilty of not allowing his players play to their strengths, especially de Rossi and Grosso. And meaningless substitutions and probably not being able to figure out how to break a deadlock. He played the game in hope and it got him far but not far enough.
Aragones has a semi-final to play and one hopes it will be a different affair. Different from yesterday and from the first Spain v/s Russia game. Aragones has a great team and he did win with 10 changes, but on yesterday’s evidence, his problem lies in being able to significantly change tactics if things don’t work. Like-for-like substitutions have been the extent of his gameplan and if Guus has the edge after 60 minutes, will Luis have the inspiration to turn it around?
Oh and the shoot-out. Thank God Italy lost.