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de Vos: Thoughts on Balotelli, Pirlo, Prandelli and more

Jason de Vos
6/28/2012 7:57:37 PM
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With the final set between Spain and Italy, here are some thoughts on Mario Balotelli finding his form, peerless Andrea Pirlo, praise for Prandelli, Spain's possession game and their starting lineup.

1. Balotelli finding his form

It took a little while, but Italian striker Mario Balotelli is finding his form at the perfect time. Balotelli scored both goals to lead Italy past Germany in the semifinals by a score of 2-1.

Balotelli struggled to trouble Iker Casillas in Spain's goal during Italy's first taste of tournament action at EURO 2012, and the Italian will be desperate to put that right in the final. The volatile front man has the perfect blend of strength, speed and finishing ability – something that head coach Cesare Prandelli will be looking to utilize to great effect in the final.

If Italy can find Balotelli on the counter-attack, like they did for his second goal against Germany, he will cause Spain's defence all kinds of problems.

2. Is Pirlo peerless at EURO 2012?

I've got Andrea Pirlo on top of my list for the EURO 2012 all-star team; such have been the levels of his performances for Italy.

After a brilliant club season, where Pirlo helped Juventus to the Serie A title, the midfield maestro has pulled the strings for his national team in this tournament. The best word I can use to describe Pirlo is 'efficient' – everything he does is for a reason, and every pass he makes has a purpose. He rarely concedes possession, and is equally proficient on either foot.

Spain will need to do a better job of dealing with Pirlo in the final than they did in their group game, where the Italian played a magnificent ball in behind the Spanish defence to spring Antonio Di Natale to open the scoring.

3. Prandelli proving his worth

I have given plenty of praise to Italian head coach Cesare Prandelli over the course of the tournament. He has shown himself to be tactically astute, switching formations and personnel to suit each opponent.

In Italy's group stage meeting with Spain, Prandelli deployed a 3-5-2 formation, with midfielder Danielle De Rossi operating as a libero between two central defenders. Prandelli could opt for the same formation in the final, but may decide to stick with the midfield diamond that worked so well against Germany.

Pirlo served as the base of the diamond, with De Rossi to the left, Claudio Marchisio to the right and Riccardo Montolivo as the point. While Pirlo's positional role was clear, the other three were interchangeable, causing all sorts of confusion in the German midfield.

I would be surprised if Prandelli reverted to the same formation and personnel as he utilized in their first game, and think he might have one final tactical card up his sleeve to play against Spain in the final.

4. Tiki-taka is... boring?

I'm shocked at the criticism leveled at Spain for being, of all things, boring.

Keeping possession of the ball is both an offensive and defensive strategy, and no team in the world does this better than Spain. The theory is really quite simple; the opponent cannot score if they do not have the ball.

As enjoyable as it is to watch Spain toying with their opponents like a cat toying with a mouse, my concern for them is this; when both fullbacks, Jordi Alba and Alvaro Arbeloa, step up into midfield – at times in the tournament they have operated almost as wingers – they leave themselves exposed to the counter attack. If any team in this tournament is capable of hurting Spain on the counter-attack, it is Italy.

If Pirlo and company can steal the ball off Spain's midfield and get it forward quickly to Balotelli and Cassano, Spain will have problems. But getting the ball off of Spain's midfielders is not an easy task!

5. False nine or Fernando Torres?

The big decision that Spanish coach Vicente Del Bosque needs to make ahead of the final is whether to opt for a false nine, in Cesc Fabregas, or a traditional centre forward – likely to be Fernando Torres.

Alvaro Negredo did very little in his cameo appearance up front for Spain in their semifinal victory over Portugal, and I don't expect him to start in the final. Fernando Llorente has yet to see the field for Spain, so the logical choice for Del Bosque, if he opts for a centre forward, is Torres.

When he came on in the group stage game against Italy, Torres caused problems because he was able to stretch the Italian back three. I'm not convinced that he will have the same impact if he starts in the final, and I wouldn't be surprised if Del Bosque opts to go with Fabregas at the start, knowing he can bring Torres on when Italian defenders tire.

Both managers have decisions to make, but one thing is for sure – this is going to be a great final for football fans to enjoy!

Jason deVos

Jason deVos

As one of Canada's most accomplished soccer players, Jason deVos spent nearly 20 years on the pitch playing competitive soccer at the highest professionallevels in Canada and around the world. After retiring from international play, deVos began his broadcasting career as a soccer analyst with the CBC and GOLTV. Most recently he provided commentary and analysis for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa for the CBC.

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