"They" say that late is better than never; so it's time to examine the final game of the 2012 European Football Championships and the lessons this edition of the tournament has taught us.
A prediction wasn't made for this year's final for the simple reason that the matchup didn't warrant one. Spain was always going to win. The announcers and analysts tried their best to give Italian fans hope by talking up the deep-sitting Andrea Pirlo, but he was never going to have the impact he had against England or Germany. Spain is a team that can press. They can press because they press intelligently, with purpose and calm instead of the blind energy-sapping vigor of a bulldog (a favorite of Fabio Capello's England side).
When they do lose the ball, they dictate which side the ball can be played to and methodically eliminate options as the ball moves up the field. By the time it reaches the midfield, the next pass is so predictable, it may be best just to leave the ball where it lies and play defense. Not to mention the fact that Spain was playing with six midfielders. Without the stereotypical defensively inept strikers, Pirlo had a fraction of the time he was previously afforded to read the field and make a play.
It was unfortunate, however, that Italy was forced to play a man down having used all of their substitutions prior to the game-ending injury of Thiago Motta. The 4-0 result was not representative of the effort they put into their play. They were simply outclassed and outnumbered in the closing minutes, when Spain's final two goals were scored. Thank goodness neither was the deciding strike and that the first 2 were masterful displays of incisive passing.
Shape is Everything: With the whole world gone pass-happy trying to mimic the Spanish success, the shape a team takes in both defense and attack is of the utmost importance. England provided a perfect example of this lesson. Their two ranks of four flat defenders were impressive until teams who could actually hold the ball and play a through ball cut them to ribbons. Looking past the problem of ceding nearly 60 percent of possession, England defended so deep and played their target striker so high, a void was created in the midfield that encompassed nearly two-thirds of the opposing team's players. They were relegated to playing the longball to their top striker, who promptly flicked it on to space, where the goalkeeper would gather it up. If your shaped gives up the midfield, you cannot win.
Strikers aren't a Necessity: Spain's 4-3-3 formation with six midfielders playing the 3-3 part could start a revolution. Strikers specialize in scoring, but current formations limit how many are used and make it is relatively easy to mark all but the best of the best out of the game. It doesn't help that once they get the ball, odds are a shot (regardless of position relative to the goal) or turnover is close at hand. Midfielders, however, are trained to pass. Playmakers will find a player in a position where scoring is much more likely. With more playmakers on the field, the more likely the team is to shoot higher percentage shots. It has the added benefit that the defense cannot key on one or two players, they must stay organized to limit playable options.
Goal-line Technology is a Necessity: There isn't too much to be said here. American football and basketball have video replay. Tennis has the electronic line judge. It can't be that difficult. Let's get with the times and move on. The subject has become beyond tiresome.
Thanks for following. Hopefully the World Cup will provide as many surprises as this tournament.