Two of the grand masters of European football cancelled each other out this evening in Gdansk in other match which gave away almost entirely nothing about where the Henri Delaunay Trophy will end up this year. Spain, about whom so many superlatives have been written that it is almost impossible to say anything new about them, and Italy’s enigmatic 2012 edition played out a 1-1 draw which at times had the feel of an exhibition match, a demonstration of technical ability at its absolute highest but which ultimately ended unresolved. A fair result on a bland, uncontroversial afternoon at the 2012 European Championships.
Even the two goals came within minutes of each other. Italy took the lead after an hour had been played when, having only just been introduced in place of the largely ineffectual Mario Balotelli, Antonio Di Natale latched on to a pass through the middle from Andrea Pirlo and drove the ball under Iker Casillas to give Italy the lead. The shock of seeing this all-conquering, omnipotent Spanish side didn’t last for very long, however. Four minutes later, David Silva found a little space for Cesc Fabregas and Fabregas shot across the Italian goalkeeper Buffon to bring Spain level.
Spain had made a tactically odd decision in their starting line-up in opting to start without any “strikers” (in the traditional sense), and the introduction of Fernando Torres perhaps vindicated this decision. Torres had showed signs of life during the second half of last season for Chelsea, but this afternoon he was back to something approaching the form that had earned him the reputation that he came into this tournament with. An attempt to take the ball around Buffon ended with an aimless meander in the vague direction of the corner flag, while a lob from the edge of the penalty area ended with the ball looping harmlessly over the crossbar. With those disappointments came the ultimate vindication of Del Bosques initial decision. What, we may well ask, is the point of starting a striker if your team scores more goals without one than with one?
The first half had been an understated affair, high on technique, low on thrills. Perhaps this is what twenty-first century football is to become. Perhaps those that like to prefer football matches to games of chess – in spite of the lack of knights and horseback and black and white checks on the pitch – are winning the war after all. Perhaps we should now being enjoying football on a higher intellectual plane now, one in which goals and chances on goal are considered a little vulgar in comparison with players merely passing the ball around in an aesthetically pleasing manner. Italy seemed more comfortable in their skin than Spain during the first half, though, as if their more conventional formation required, unsurprisingly enough, less time to adapt to.
With the introduction of Torres, the second half had a more frantic feel to it, but for all the excitement it never really felt as if this match was going to catch fire or otherwise reach some sort of dramatic denouement. Even as the two sides opened up in the closing stages of the match, The Moment never quite fell for either side and honours even felt like a reasonable enough conclusion to it all. This was, however, another entertaining match and Euro 2012 is certainly not – so far, at least – living down to the expectations of those who predicted wall-to-wall mediocrity. If this continues, we should have a fascinating few weeks ahead of us.
Ultimately, though, this was a result both teams will be feeling reasonably pleased with this evening. For Italy, taking a point from the current world and European champions is no small achievement and they now go into their final two matches against the weaker group opposition of Ireland and Croatia having demonstrated that they can hold their own against the very best in the tournament. Spain, meanwhile, can take some consolation from the fact that they came back from going a goal behind so quickly and that they got through their match without any strikers without losing. They will surely improve upon this afternoons performance.
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