Italy's goose was cooked after just five minutes
ANALYSIS:We just have to sit back and applaud this remarkable Spanish side
IT ONLY took five minutes. In those early exchanges I thought Italy would have a real go but once the Spaniards settled into a rhythm the game was up. It was their own incomparable rhythm.
And it took them just five minutes.
Beforehand, I was confident that Italy had a chance from the way Xavi and Xabi Alonso faded against Portugal. It seemed like a genuine chink in the armour of this great team. A hint that key members of the midfield six were tiring after long, distinguished careers. But after five minutes of shadow boxing their familiar tempo clicked into gear.
They were even better, snappier than their usual selves. We caught a glimpse of that relentless attacking majesty in extra-time against Portugal but it was unfurled for 90 minutes last night.
Xavi, the potential weakness, proved a key component in stopping Italy. To do so Andrea Pirlo had to be stymied. Xavi went straight after him, harrying him, forcing him to retreat just in front of the Italian centre backs.
Pirlo couldn’t even pass laterally, only backwards and Italy kicked long, allowing Spain to regather and come again. They couldn’t get him on the ball higher up the pitch. That was Italy’s only chance of winning this tournament.
Xavi or Cesc Fabregas were all over him. Xavi’s fingerprints were on both goals as well. They really did seize this moment to do what no other country has done before – win three major tournaments on the bounce. What an achievement.
The early goal by David Silva, ultimately, proved the undoing of Cesare Prandelli’s tactical plan. They went 4-4-2 last night. In the opening Pool game between the sides Italy earned a draw by lining up 3-5-2 with Daniele De Rossi wedged between the centre backs. It worked that night and against Croatia. They needed to score goals against the Republic of Ireland so they reverted to their traditional 4-4-2 with a diamond shaped midfield where everything flowed through Pirlo. De Rossi also returned to his more natural role.
It proved enough to beat an impressive, young German side, which was enough to convince Prandelli and the players to take on these mighty opponents in a less defensive manner. Such overconfidence proved their downfall. In their first meeting De Rossi gave Italy an extra body in defence but he was also able to pick players out on the counter. The protection was gone and no team can match Spain in this form.