El Centrocampista

Italy have problems ahead of Euro 2012 – but Spain have their own


In the build-up to Spain’s Euro 2012 opener against Italy, much is being made of the scandal off the pitch that could derail Italy’s campaign before it even begins. Losing players to legal proceedings certainly doesn’t help the atmosphere in any camp, but those banking on the Italians responding with woe rather than fury should keep in mind how things went for them the last time they approached a tournament in similar circumstances.

A tournament-winning reaction like before is unlikely, simply because the general quality of Italy’s squad no longer rivals that of their World Cup greats. None the less, Vicente Del Bosque will know that Italy can be at their most dangerous when they’re backed into a corner, and with little expectation riding on their shoulders, the Italians may well turn a few heads.

Most of all, Del Bosque won’t be paying much attention to Italy’s off-field matters because he has enough problems of his own. Carles Puyol, the glue who holds La Roja together in many ways, will no longer be able to tower above Spain’s opponents just when they need it, whether that’s to score or indeed, defend, a match-settling goal. David Villa won’t be there to lift Spain’s hopes either, and both Fernandos Llorente and Torres approach Sunday’s opener without a particularly positive end of season to take encouragement from.

Spain’s biggest problem could lie in the heart of their defence. After everything I mentioned above it would be hypocritical to drag out the already tiresome speculation that Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos don’t get on, but there’s certainly something to be said about their relationship on the pitch.

At a press conference on Friday, the majority of the media were paying attention to Pique’s words on his relationship with Sergio Ramos, but if they’d been listening properly they would have noticed something far more noteworthy.

Gerard Pique also briefly alluded to the fact that he has to work harder if he’s going to play well alongside Ramos. In particular, Pique highlighted that, with Carles Puyol, he knows simply from a look or a gesture what his defensive partner is going to do or, indeed, what Puyol wants him to do. With Ramos, that simply isn’t there.

That small piece of detail in itself could be the undoing for Spain at this tournament. Spain’s football relies on sharp defensive understanding on the rare occasions that they’re under attack. With Ramos and Pique not yet having such comprehension of one another, the probability of an error or failure to act is much higher. Against a forward as unpredictable as Mario Balotelli, for example, that could be costly. The Italians, masters of analysis of minor details when it comes to football, will know that.

And so I repeat my warning for those who presume Spain will simply steamroll Italy on Sunday. The former World Champions may not be at their best, but Spain aren’t likely to be either. Hopefully that will turn into a positive for the neutral and make the game less predictable than past encounters, particularly if we have to endure the clichés inevitably rolled out by commentators every five minutes about Catenaccio v tiki-taka. But that’s another story…


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