Euro 2012: This is not the death of Catenaccio

The La Furia Roja have rewritten history by becoming the first side to successfully defend their European title. And they did it against the Italians— the only team to hold a World Cup, winning it in 1934 and defending it in 1938.

Spain's newspapers have already lavished praise on the team, who have been chided for playing boring football throughout the tournament. Their showing against Italy was anything but.

"“Thank you, thank you, thank you!" said Marca, with a photo of the team with Iker Casillas holding the trophy aloft.

El Mundo declared the team as "Champions of Legend", describing the victory as "Spain’s masterpiece".

By contrast, Italy will land at the Leonardo da Vinci airport in Rome with thoughts dwelling on a tournament that delivered what was expected, but collapsed at the final hurdle. In Italy, unlike in England, the pressure of deliverance at the highest level doesn't bog down the team.

Despite not winning the European Championships, which the Italian team were more than capable of doing, they have much to be proud of. AP

Italy are the masters of defensive football, with earlier teams following the "score one goal and kill the game" philosophy during the 1970s and 80s. A concept that was based on defending as the primary objective in football, catenaccio or the 'door-bolt' gave rise to defenders who were both feared and respected in equal measure. The likes of Franco Baresi, Claudio Gentile and Gaetano Scirea of yesteryear, while Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta and Fabio Cannavaro of today's Italy made their names following this wall-like defensive strategy.

Under Cesare Prandelli, catenaccio has been taken to new heights. Despite not winning the European Championships, which the Italian team were more than capable of doing, they have much to be proud of.

Prandelli's players bought into his attacking style of football, which saw them take the game to England in the quarter-finals, and had not been for some brilliant saves by Joe Hart, they would've sent the Three Lions home at the end of normal time.

Arch-rivals Germany came next, and the Italians played a fluid, attacking brand of football which saw Mario Balotelli's brace send them through to the finals. The Italians were rarely tested, and when they were, Gianluigi Buffon was up to the task.

Prandelli has been all praise for his side. Speaking to the press , he said, "I'd give us an eight out of ten for the tournament. We had a difficult group and played some good games; we just struggled to recover our fitness. Italy have shown terrific team spirit, they've shown you can play attacking football, they've shown you don't have to kick people, they've shown you can lose with dignity and that they can react to hard situations.

"You can never be happy after defeat; you always want to win. But the longer the game went on the more I came to reflect on how well we've played. When we fly over Kyiv and see the stadium lights I will have pangs of disappointment but I leave proud."

Surely luck had something to do with their performance on the night. Giorgio Chiellini had hobbled off after 20 minutes, Antonio Cassano had been replaced at half-time and Thiaggo Motta had collapsed mere minutes after coming on. This meant that the Azzurri played nearly forty minutes of the second half with ten men.

Against Spain, you need that extra something. While Italy had possession for some parts of the game and threatened at times, Andrea Pirlo was just too starved of the ball to make a lasting impact on the Spanish rearguard. Cassano threatened, Balotelli sparked and Pirlo probed and prodded, but there was no sudden blaze to put Spain to the sword.

Under such circumstances, one cannot help but feel sorry for the Azzurri. But should one look beyond the immediate, one can see that catenaccio is still highly successful. Juventus under Antonio Conte played that system, which was heavily infused with attacking elements and went the entire season unbeaten on their way to winning the league. Napoli also employed a similar strategy with three defenders — similar to the one Prandelli fielded in his first two games — and ended up winning the Italian Cup.

AC Milan finished second in Serie A and progressed to the quarter finals of the Champions League, where they were undone by Barcelona. Milan have also won more FIFA-recognised titles than any other football club, alongwith Boca Juniors of Argentina.

So catenaccio has seen the Italians reach the final of the European Championships, tiki-taka has seen Spain win it. But as Frank Leboeuf said, it's all part of a cycle.

Italy played with verve, with charm, with panache, but there is only so much you can do against Xavi and Andres Iniesta. Spain fans will claim that Italy lost 4-0, which is the heaviest score in a European final, but after Jordi Alba made it 2-0, Buffon's net was only breached in the 84th minute, when fatigue had become an issue.

Italian fans say that they respond well in a crisis. Well, they have. It's just that the impact hasn't been immediate. Look at the bigger picture and you can see that the response is loud and clear.

It's only a matter of time before the cycle ends, but that won't be for a while. Spain's current crop have won three trophies on the trot, and look as hungry for trophies in 2014 as they did in 2008.


Updated Date: Jul 03, 2012 09:51 AM

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