Fans and players of the Italian national team should hold their heads high. Save the notion of championship or failure for the Yankees and fictional race car drivers.
Euro 2012 was simply not a failure for an Italian team looking to reinvent itself after the debacle in South Africa. They exceeded even the most positive pre-tournament expectations by making it to the final, where they lost to one of history’s best teams. I fail to see the shame in that.
Throughout the tournament, most of us felt that Spain, despite racking up wins and conceding a solitary goal, still was not playing at its best. This changed in the final, where Spain gave a vintage performance, playing at an optimal level. Simply put, when the Spanish play like they did Sunday, there isn’t a team currently on the planet that can beat them.
One of the key’s for Spain was the positioning of Xavi, who helped to nullify Andrea Pirlo. Based on where he had played throughout the tournament, many (myself included) did not believe Xavi would play high enough up the pitch to occupy Pirlo.
Wrong. Where Rooney, Ozil, and Kroos failed, Xavi succeeded, and that went a long in way in deciding the match.
But let’s not dwell on Sunday, for Italy has much to be proud of as they leave Ukraine. Consider:
- Coach Cesare Prandelli’s goal to reinvent Italy as a team that can play positive, possession-based soccer is baring fruit. The days of all out defense (erroneously referred to as catenaccio-really, this should only be used in reference to a specific formation) seem to be long gone and the Azzurri will be better off for it.
- Andrea Pirlo made a strong case for player of the tournament, showing that he can still play at a high level internationally. This comes off the heals of his outstanding inaugural season at Juventus.
- For all his antics and inconsistency (he was incredibly poor in the final), Mario Balotelli displayed why he has a bright future (provided he can keep his head on straight). Balotelli was brilliant in the semi-final win against Germany, believed by many at the time to be the tournament’s true best team. His talent is undeniable and with some more maturity (remember, he is only 21), I fully expect him to play a key role for Italy on the road to Brazil 2014 and beyond.
Looking forward, Italy will look to supplement the team that performed so well at the Euros will talented youngsters included Pescara’s Marco Verratti (hailed as Pirlo’s potential heir), and strikers Stephan El Shaaraway and Alberto Paloschi, both of AC Milan (Paloschi has been on loan at Chievo).
If Italy can begin a new cycle of success, it will look back on Euro 2012 as a launching point.