|While I would never be so disrespectful as to insult the world champions, I am very glad that this Italy team are on their way home from Euro 2008. Before I get waves of abuse from any Italians stumbling across my ramblings, I must point out the fact that I refer to THIS Italy team. In no way do I refer to Italy as a whole; the country, its people or any of its national team's past incarnations. I want to make that very clear. So…we're good?
Okay. An Italy victory over Spain last night would have left only one "flair" team left in the tournament (Russia) and that, after a mostly exhilarating and top quality championship, would have been a massive shame. The fact that the two most exciting teams left in Euro 2008 now meet each other in the semi-finals means at least one will feature in the contest for the title, which is better than nothing. Spain against Russia should be a joyous affair; a celebration of skilful, exciting soccer. Italy against Russia wouldn't have been.
If we needed any further evidence about the mentality of Roberto Donadoni's team then Sunday night's quarter-final was the red stamp which read "case closed". While negative might be too strong a term, Italy were definitely stifling and had the game by the throat from the start - and not in a good way. Rather than grabbing the match and rampaging all over it in a bid to win the game in 90 minutes, Italy seemed to be choking the life out of it, safe in the knowledge that having one of the best keepers in the world between the sticks meant they stood a good chance in the penalty shoot-out they were obviously playing for.
Italy were effective and well-organized as you would expect from the world champions but it was their game plan on the night that made for horrible viewing. While there should be admiration for the way they stopped Spain from playing their game and the shackles they put on Villa and Torres, the Italians showed little of the other side of soccer - you know, when a team tries to score.
Maybe Donadoni accepted the limitations of this team, shorn of Cannavaro, Pirlo and Gattuso, and decided his best chance was to cancel out the other team. Or perhaps, the limitations were not of the team's making but of the coach and that Donadoni just couldn't come up with a plan for beating Spain at their own attacking game.
My colleague Jefferson Chase wrote a very good opinion piece about the cock-up the organizers of Euro 2008 made when planning the permeatations of the knock-out rounds. He pointed out that the draw looked very unbalanced once the group stage was over. With all due fairness to Germany and Turkey - the other semi-finalists - their side of the draw could best be described as workmanlike while the other contained nearly all the so-called "flair" teams. In this way, by the time of the final, the chances of having an exciting play-off for the title would have been drastically reduced.
Had Italy progressed in the "flair " side of the draw, it would have taken an optimist - or an Italian - to suggest that a potential Italy vs. Germany/Turkey final would have been a carnival of soccer. (This is not a reflection on the quality of all the teams which contested the quarter-finals, just the different approaches and tactics).
The Germany vs. Turkey semi-final conjures up a very different image to the prospect of Spain vs. Russia. Anyone with any knowledge of the game will surely agree which contest looks more attractive. Thankfully, either Spain or Russia will be a finalist and their participation in the deciding match will mean that either Germany or Turkey will be required to play a team drilled and organized to make a match of it.
I fear that the same could not be said had the current Italian team made it.