Analysis: How Spain won Ã¢ÂÂ and not as easily as they made it appear
In some respects, this was as close a game as Spain had had all tournament. They had 14 shots with six on target, not far clear of Italy's 11 total with four on target. Obviously the important thing is that four of Spain's six shots on target went in...
Indeed, for some of the match Italy were ahead on shots Ã¢ÂÂ but they didn't register an attempt after 57 minutes. By contrast, in the last 10 minutes Spain had three shots, all on target Ã¢ÂÂ and two went in.
As ever, Spain had more of the ball (56.6% possession and 61.5% territory) and passed around with ease, completing 510 of 577 passes (88%) compared to Italy's 368 from 411 (83%).
Furthermore, Spain tried twice as many passes which ended in their opponent's third Ã¢ÂÂ and completed more than three times as many.
It wasn't a procession from start to finish: Italy had their spells on top, although Spain seemed able to find an extra gear. Using the sliders under the Stats Zone screens to compare different periods, you can see how after a tentative first five minutes, Spain doubled their passing rate.
Sure enough, the first goal arrived after 13 minutes through a rare David Silva header Ã¢ÂÂ surely the last thing Italy would have expected. The new Goal Buildup screen Ã¢ÂÂ which will be available on the 2012/13 version of Stats Zone Ã¢ÂÂ shows a typically patient preamble to the opener.
Italy refused to buckle, though, and by comparing the first 13 minutes to the second 13 minutes you can see that they completed only a quarter as many passes as the challengers came back at them.
However, shortly before half-time Spain got a two-goal cushion through Jordi Alba. Studying the goal buildup shows that once more the champions knocked it about until an opportunity presented itself Ã¢ÂÂ this time when Xavi carried the ball forward and found their galloping left-back.
Alba's goal was typical of Spain's first half in coming down the champions' left side. As @attacktheball pointed out by examining the Pass Combination screen, Alba found Andres Iniesta an unequalled 11 times in the first half, while on the other side Alvaro Arbeloa only found Silva three times.
Perhaps it's no wonder that Vicente del Bosque decided to withdraw opening goalscorer David Silva on 59 minutes Ã¢ÂÂ he hadn't received a single second-half pass from Arbeloa, while on the other side Alba was on his way to finding Iniesta another 10 times. Either way, Italy started the second half on top, with far more passes attempted and completed in the first 15 minutes.
But by the hour mark, Cesare Prandelli had made a substitution that changed the game Ã¢ÂÂ for the worse as far as his side was concerned. Having had to bring on Federico Balzaretti for the limping Giorgio Chiellini on 21 minutes and opted at half-time to replace Antonio Cassano with Antonio Di Natale, Prandelli brought on Thiago Motta for Riccardo Montolivo with 34 minutes to play.
The switch made sense to an extent Ã¢ÂÂ Motta is an excellent player with knowledge of the Spanish game Ã¢ÂÂ but Montolivo was unlucky to be replaced, having had 100% pass completion in the attacking third; as @FFinfo noted, at the time Montolivo went off only Xavi had completed more passes.
Whatever Prandelli's thinking, his plans were shattered within minutes when Motta was stretchered off with a hamstring injury. From that point on, 10-man Italy were almost literally chasing shadows as Spain stroked the ball about at whim.
The change in pace is also evident on the Player Influence screen: not only are the Spanish dominant, they are also mainly camped in the Italian half while the Azzurri struggle to register any attacking intent.
Del Bosque brought on Fernando Torres for the final 15 minutes to stretch a tiring Italy Ã¢ÂÂ and it worked. First he scored after being fed by a Xavi interception deep in Italy territory; then he laid off for clubmate and fellow late sub Juan Mata to finish a short sharp counter-attack.
Overall, Italy tried commendably to match Spain and Ã¢ÂÂ despite the scoreline Ã¢ÂÂ did much better than most. During Spain's march to retaining the trophy, nobody had more shots, completed more passes or had more possession than Italy did in the final. But Spain are true champions and simply bettered their opponents in all those categories anyway. That's what champions do.
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