Sunday, 10 June 2012

Euro 2012 - Spain 1 - 1 Italy: The slow death of the striker


Rising ticket prices, corporate types trampling over club's histories, TV schedulers moving games and supporters from pillar to post, Ken Bates. While it is true to say that modern football is rubbish it is also true to say that modern footballers are not.

If you like your soccer a little more hare 'em scare 'em then Spain 1, Italy 1 may have seemed a little too prosaic and pedestrian for you. However, for the rest of us this match epitomised the modern game with both teams lining up with bold and progressive formations that may be replicated, by others, in seasons to come.

Spain, abandoned the principle that a team needs a striker to score goals and Italy are in the process of reintroducing the 3-5-2 formation.

Italy coach, Prandelli may not win Euro 2012 but he bloody deserves a medal for having the audacity to start a football match with Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli up front. These two forward players are the exemplars of maverick footballers. Precocious with the ball and fractious of nature. The combination may not have been entirely successful, on this occasion, but football needs tacticians with the ambition to have both players on the pitch at the same time.

Spain's decision to start the game without Fernando Torres or the Athletic Bilbao striker Fernando Llorente was equally progressive but in a different way. Unlike the uber negative 4-6-0 (otherwise known as the Levein Method) Spain played 4-3-3 with Cesc Fabregas occupying a central role flanked by Andreas Iniesta and David Silva.

For over an hour, both teams played with these unorthodox approaches with Italy surprising everyone who has not been watching Serie A recently by trying to score goals and win the game rather than play negative and steal candy from babies.

At the very start, the Spanish looked a little hesitant in front of goal but, unlike the Italians their bold strategy would be rewarded with a goal. Italy's best chance came in the second half with Balotelli who showed tremendous tenacity in capitalising on a mistake by Sergio Ramos but his inexplicable delay in taking his shot allowed Ramos to win the ball back and rendered the youngster, embarrassed. He was then substituted for an out and out goal scorer in Antonio Di Natale.

And it was the Udinese striker who did what he's paid to do by slotting the ball past Iker Casillas with a glorious open bodied strike thanks to a killer pass from Andrea Pirlo.

But if Pirlo's pass was box office then David Silva's ball to Fabregas for the equaliser was straight out of Hollywood. Having proved his point, Spain coach Del Bosque restored some orthodoxy to proceedings and brought on a striker in Fernando Torres. The Chelsea player's inability to put the game beyond Italy when he had the chance may, if anything, underline the point that strikers are too unreliable and may be consigned to history.

It's possible I'm getting carried away but before the start of Euro 2012, I said in various offices that this tournament may not be about strikers but attacking midfielders. My hypothesis being that front men will only exist to give teams shape and they will not be the primary source of goals. Spain look to be going even further than that and should they retain their European crown by starting with nominal midfielders up front, we may be witnessing the slow death of the striker.

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