There were all kinds of talking points from the games played on day three of Euro 2012, as Spain took on Italy followed by the Republic of Ireland versus Croatia.
Spain elected to play a 4-3-3 formation – with six midfielders – while Italian coach Cesare Prandelli lined up his team in a 3-5-2 formation, with midfielder Daniele De Rossi slotting into the three-man back line between Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonnucci.
Prandelli's move very nearly worked, as the Italians came away with a point after holding the reigning world and European champions to a 1-1 draw.
For long stretches of the game, Spain's technical brilliance was stymied by Italy's tactical superiority. Time and time again, Italy were able to thwart the Spanish attack because their positional play was superb. De Rossi in particular was in outstanding form in the first half as he organized the Italian defense to perfection.
The introduction of substitute Antonio Di Natale in the second half paid off for Prandelli's men, as he latched onto a wonderful through ball from Andrea Pirlo to give Italy the lead in the 61st minute. But the lead lasted all of three minutes, as Spain equalized through Cesc Fabregas, whose diagonal run into the penalty box was met by a clever pass from David Silva.
A draw was a fair result on the balance of play. Italy showed that it could live with the best in the world, while Spain proved that they would not deviate from their preferred tiki-taka style of play, even in the absence of injured striker David Villa. If both teams can carry this form into their final two group games, it will be difficult to see either of them failing to reach the knockout stage.
In the second game of the day, Croatia got the better of the Republic of Ireland, coming away with a 3-1 victory.
Mario Mandzukic opened the scoring for Croatia before Sean St. Ledger equalized with a header. Just before the halftime break, Croatia took the lead under controversial circumstances.
Nikica Jelavic prodded home a botched clearance by Irish defender Stephen Ward, after Luka Modric's effort from outside the penalty box was blocked. While Jelavic was in an offside position when the initial shot came in from Modric, the referee determined that he was not interfering with play or an with opponent.
The shot from Modric was the first phase of play. As the two Croatian players, Jelavic and Mandzukic, were deemed by the referee to be neither interfering with play nor gaining an advantage by being in an offside position, play was allowed to continue.
The attempted clearance from Ward was the second phase of play. As the ball came off the boot of Ward, rather than being a deflection, Jelavic was not deemed to be offside.
For the purpose of clarity, here is the official wording of the Rule 11 – the offside rule - from FIFA:
"Interfering with play" means:- Playing or touching the ball passed or touched by a teammate
"Interfering with an opponent" means:- Preventing an opponent from playing or being able to play the ball.- Making a gesture or movement which, in the opinion of the referee, deceives or distracts an opponent
"Gaining an advantage by being in that position" means:- Playing a ball that rebounds to him off a post or crossbar, having previously been in an offside position- Playing a ball that rebounds to him off an opponent, having previously been in an offside position
The controversy comes because the rule relies on the interpretation of the officials. They have but a split second to make a decision, and do not have the benefit of a video replay. If they did, there would be far less debate about game-changing situations such as this one.
This is why I am in favour of utilizing video replays in soccer. The fourth (or fifth) official should immediately review any goal that is scored. Access to multiple camera angles would allow that official to make the correct call, eliminating any debate and allowing the game to flow at its natural pace.