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The Tactics That Won the Euro 2012 Final (Spain 4-0 Italy)

Thomas Swan has been an avid fan of the English Premier League and European football for more than 25 years.

How did Spain defeat Italy so easily?

How did Spain defeat Italy so easily?

The Buildup to the Final

Spain had just defeated Portugal in a tense penalty shoot-out after a 0-0 draw, while Italy had beaten Germany 2-1 in their semi-final with surprising ease.

Spain had played in a similar way to Germany (i.e., through the middle with quick, intricate passes), which may be why the Italian manager, Cesare Prandelli, deployed the same tactics again in the final. This consisted of a narrow 4-3-1-2 formation, with Andrea Pirlo as playmaker in the middle of the three (see below; Marchisio and De Rossi actually played either side of Pirlo).

The Tactics and Lineup That Won Euro 2012

The team lineups in the Euro 2012 final between Spain (red) and Italy (blue).

The team lineups in the Euro 2012 final between Spain (red) and Italy (blue).

The Genius of Vicente del Bosque

On paper, Prandelli appeared to be making the right decision. Unfortunately for him, the Spanish manager, Vicente del Bosque, predicted his approach. Where Germany had failed (by continuing to play through the middle) del Bosque told his team to do the opposite. Spain constantly utilized the flanks.

Jordi Alba and Alvaro Arbeloa were given the job of bursting down the wings. David Silva and Cesc Fabregas also took up wide positions at numerous opportune moments. This forced the Italian midfielders out of position, freeing up space in the middle for Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, and Xavi to create chances at will.

Contributing to this vacuous hole in the Italian team was Prandelli's decision to leave his forwards far up the pitch. Neither Balotelli nor Cassano tracked back to threaten Xavi and Alonso when they were in possession. The screen capture below illustrates this peculiar setup.

Perhaps Prandelli was hoping for Andrea Pirlo to play long balls up to Italy's forwards in the hope that Spain had pushed too far forward. Whatever was in his mind, it failed miserably.

Cesare Prandelli's Tactical Mistake

Italy played a very narrow 4-3-1-2 formation, but their forwards were too far upfield. Spain utilized the flanks, freeing up even more space for their midfield.

Italy played a very narrow 4-3-1-2 formation, but their forwards were too far upfield. Spain utilized the flanks, freeing up even more space for their midfield.

The Four Goals

As expected, Spain's goals came from the flanks. Andres Iniesta slid a beautiful pass down the right channel for Fabregas who got to the byline and fired an inch-perfect cross onto the head of David Silva. Silva merely had to aim the ball into the goal to give Spain a 1-0 lead.

Five minutes before halftime, Jordi Alba burst down the opposite flank and passed to the masterful Xavi who had plenty of time to pick a perfect return pass. Alba continued his powerful run all the way into the box, finishing coolly to make it 2-0. At halftime, the game was up.

To his credit, Prandelli abandoned his team's narrow shape in the second half. There was an immediate improvement with substitute Antonio Di Natale coming close to scoring on a couple of occasions. However, their revival was short-lived as Tiago Motta pulled his hamstring and Italy were unable to replace him, having made their three substitutions.

From then on, Italy looked a beaten side, and Spain added goals from substitutes Fernando Torres and Juan Mata. The magnificent Xavi provided the defense splitting pass for Torres, with Busquets providing the crucial pass for Mata's goal.

Man of the Match Xavi

With all the space that Italy gave him, Xavi had every opportunity to put in a first-class performance. Under par throughout most of the tournament, Xavi was not about to miss his moment to shine. With assists for Alba and Torres, his passes effectively won the game for Spain. His pass completion rate was an incredible 93%, and like many greats before him, he brought his best game to the biggest stage.

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Two legends: Xavi (right) kept Andrea Pirlo contained.

Two legends: Xavi (right) kept Andrea Pirlo contained.

What Happened to Andrea Pirlo?

The common opinion is that Spain neutralized Pirlo, but few people have explained how. As previously mentioned, Alonso, Xavi, and Iniesta were given far too much space. Claudio Marchisio, who should have been on defensive duty in the middle, was occupied by the runs of Jordi Alba. This left Pirlo outnumbered and forced to defend against the trickery of Iniesta, which was clearly not something he was happy doing. To top it off, when Pirlo got on the ball, he was quickly closed down by Xavi and the other Spanish midfielders.

Record Breaking Spain

With their Euro 2012 victory, Spain became the first national team in history to win three major international tournaments back-to-back (previously Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup). This effectively made them the greatest team to have ever played the game.

Winning Euro 2012 was Spain's response to their critics. The team, labeled "boring" and "past their best," won by the largest margin of victory ever in a Euro final, completely outgunning Italy in terms of individual ability and tactical organization. For the latter, Vicente del Bosque's anticipation and counter of Italy's tactics made this a much easier victory than it should have been.


Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on July 12, 2012:

The Euro 2012 final was indeed a great game. Thanks for the comments Richard.

Richard-Murray on July 10, 2012:


I remember Italy's attack during the final. I would say, Italy made the mistake of not possessing longer in the first half when Spain bunkered in and tested the strength of their midfielders to press beyond the midfield zone and stretch spain's legs.

But, of course that is retrospect. Great game.

Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on July 10, 2012:

That's certainly possible. Di Natale's goal was all Pirlo for me. That dribble and pass were perfect. He needed to be in that attacking position in the Euro 2012 final. I'm surprised by how much possession Italy had. It never seemed to count for much though. All I remember is Spain attacking.

Richard-Murray on July 08, 2012:

Thomas, fair enough. I didn't say it would be easy for Italy but Italy had time. In the final they did have most possession over the half and in the first match, Di Natale's goal wasn't on the counter but was by a good selection of passes forward. I am not saying Italy would have won the game without question. bUt, i say Italy gets one and makes the last 5 minutes with extra time interesting.

Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on July 07, 2012:

You're right about Spain. They had those 4-0's which make them look good, but their other games were 1-1, 1-0, 0-0 and a 2-0 against France where they got a last minute penalty.

I do think the game was up though. I draw on your own comments... Spain are so difficult to score against because they possess the ball so well. Alonso, Xavi and Iniesta leave nothing for the over-rated Pique and Ramos to do.

Richard-Murray on July 05, 2012:

We are of the same mind, Italy went into the 352 but when Motta got injured that killed it. I don't think it was too late, though. I think we all too often take soccer too easily. Without Motta injured and the way Italy still ran around down ten men even with spain having the extra pass, their was time. Italy came to play and never once looked stunned at Spain.

The media sells Spain wrong. They sell spain like a goalscoring machine. Spain isn't. They are a possession based team who can score a plenty on low quality sides or down to ten mens ides, but against quality 11 men sides, Spain are a 1 to 2 goal team, plain and simple. They possess so much the opportunities are sparse, that is the key to their defense. Midfield pressure and midfield possession. I love tactics so I have no problem but the media speaks of their style like a goal scoring machine. And it just isn't and never will be. To be a potent scoring machine you need forwards, but forwards hurt the midfield pressure and possession of spain, so spain make the trade off. Silva misses that header 20 times. But, forexample, in the cope liberatadores final, with Corinthians Paulista and Boca (boca juniors for those that may not know, not you Thomas) Corinthians went up 2-0. But, Boca could have still won that game. They didn't have enough midfield speed or strength in numbers, to retain the ball. but, the point is, Italy had time with the 352 with a healthy motta.

Balotelli did well in that, I think about MArcelo for Real. A great player, excellent, one of the few brazilians who actually play with Joga bonita, but he doesn't handle situations right at times, and Balotelli has that same fire. There is always another game, calm down, accept the media saying you are lower quality and get them th enext game.

Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on July 03, 2012:

Its difficult to judge fitness, but perhaps Prandelli got that wrong. I felt their tactics were clearly wrong though, and they would have lost regardless of fitness. The more I think about the 352, the more I see it as perfect to beat Spain with. They get their congested defense (which they tried with their narrow 4312), but they also get protection on the wings. To top it off the 352 frees up Pirlo because he isn't needed defensively. When they took Montelivo off for Motta, I think that's what Italy were trying to do - move Pirlo into an attacking role. Even with Motta getting injured, it was far too late anyway.

People are just getting bored of tic-a-tac football. I'm not, so I think it's just a matter of taste. It depends if you want to see goals or technical brilliance, I'm happy with either. They only conceeded one goal in the whole tournament I think, so it seems to work.

I didn't notice Balotelli afterwards, but as he's not in the headlines for having a strop, I believe you when you say he did well!

Richard-Murray on July 03, 2012:

No team is the best ever, no team. Spain is not the best ever. Brazil would have won 5 straight if not for France in France captained by Zidane, 8 year span. Spain is the best now on a 4 year run. Can they make it to 6?

Italy actually had the right formation but played the wrong players. Strategy is important but PRandelli forgot one thing. Fitness matters. Cassano and Chiellini didn't look crisp, di Natale and Balzaretti should have started.

It can be argued that Italy should have played its 352 from the first game which would have made the center defense area more congested and favored Pirlo in. But, Prandelli didn't think Italy had the speed for it for him not to play it.

People call Spain's style boring but their style is not meant to score goals, they possess. The only time spain score many goals is against teams with technically poor players like ireland and teams that are down men, which happened to be Italy in the final. Italy were still going for the counter down 10 men against a possession style.

That is why Spain's possession style is so dangerous. they don't play with forwards so against the 442 with a deep 44 they essentially have no way to score unless the 44 has a concentration error. Spain's players can pass the ball well for a 46 but they are not physically the fastest team or the strongest or the best dribblers individually. So they will not score goals aplenty, which people measure excitement with.

Unfortunate final with Italy down 10 men but Balotelli's sportsmanship reaction to me was very good, for a player who has a temper when his team doesn't win, and has fire in the belly.

Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on July 01, 2012:

Thanks North Wind! I'm very happy for Spain too. So called pundits were calling them boring. I think Cesc Fabregas said it best "people that think we play boring, in my opinion, they don't understand the game".

Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on July 01, 2012:

Cheers internpete and CCahill, happy to have described this one for ya! It's a pleasure to write about great matches like this. I hope the hangover isn't too bad!

CCahill from England on July 01, 2012:

Great analysis, love the picture, needed someone to sum this one up for me because i couldn't hear any commentary and was too drunk to follow the game heh

Voted up and Shared via Hubpages and Twitter

North Wind from The World (for now) on July 01, 2012:

Good analysis of the match. I am doing a happy dance right now. Spain really did answer their critics!

Peter V from At the Beach in Florida on July 01, 2012:

Incredible performance by Spain. And well said, Pirlo was missing! Voted up!

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