Italy and Spain

Some were calling Spain a dynasty, while Italy was facing its regular match-fixing scandal. The scene was set for an epic battle between the last two winners of the World Cup, and Italy rose to the occasion with a 1-1 draw with mighty Spain.

It was an interesting match to watch, as Italy seems to be playing a more aggressive style under Cesare Prandelli. Fans love to hate the Italian side, but many acknowledged that Italy played well against Spain.

Italy has a long history of destructive soccer, a tradition of delaying tactics and primitive kick-and-rush counterattacks. One need only think of Marco Materazzi’s (nicknames “the animal”) goading of Zinedine Zidane in the 2006 World Cup Final.

The fact that this Italian side drew against the World and European champions–famous for the “tiki-taka” passing game that most Spanish players and coaches embrace–may be considered a defeat for soccer purists.

However, there are many subplots to this story.

In a departure from tradition, this Italian squad was far from their caricature of a defense-obsessed bunch of tricksters and instead worried about its own game; it played Spain fairly and squarely.

Despite relatively inferior players, Italy never allowed Spain’s midfielders to just pass the ball to each other and dominate possession as they tend to.

Spanish fans, never fond of the Italian brand of soccer, were impressed.

“A tie was the fair result,” Antonio Díaz, a Madrid policeman told us.

Is this the dawn of a new, viewer-friendly Italy?

We’ll see what happens against Croatia and Ireland, but the aggressive style will likely remain in place. The question is whether the Italians will go into lock-down mode after taking a lead. It was pretty shocking to see a goal scored so quickly by Spain after Italy scored, though we are dealing with the excellent Spanish team here.

Euro 2012 kicks off

The tournament is underway. There was some disturbing news about racist chants, but now we can focus on the games.

Robert Lewandowski scored the opening goal in the 2012 European Championship as co-hosts Poland settled for a draw against Greece. Hours later, Russia set the tournament for Group A with a 4-1 victory against the Czech Republic.

Poland may regain its footing after the draw. The squad features forward Lewandowski, midfielder Jakub Blascykowski and defender Lukasz Piszczek, all key players in Borrussia Dortmund’s Bundesliga triumph.

Greece pulled a major upset by winning the tournament in 2004, but is the weakest team in this tournament. The Czech Republic has neither the sufficient firepower up front nor a disciplined enough defense to get much further.

Meanwhile, Russia showed all of the discipline that the Czechs lacked. Its defense was well organized, its midfield effective and its offense comfortable. The Russians look unlikely to break under pressure, and may repeat their 2008 feat of reaching the semifinals, or do better.

Today we’ll see the group of death.

Euro 2012 leads big summer for soccer

Coming off of huge football stories in May with Chelsea winning the Champions League and Manchester City winning the Premiereship in dramatic fashion, Clemente Lisi discusses some of the big events coming up this summer, leading with Euro 2012.

As previously stated, this is the biggest tournament for national teams after the World Cup. In a way, this 16-team competition is better than the World Cup because there are fewer teams (the World Cup has 32) and with the exception of Brazil and Argentina, features some of the best players on the planet.

Things get started this coming Friday when co-hosts Poland (the other is Ukraine) takes on Greece in Warsaw. The first round features other delicious matches, including France vs. England on June 11 and Germany vs. the Netherlands on June 13.

The best games will come out of Group C because it features Spain, reigning World Cup and European champion, Italy, Ireland and Croatia. Spain vs. Italy on June 10 is the big game, but the bars in New York and Boston will really focus on Italy against Ireland.

As for who will win it all? Tough one to predict since so many Cinderella teams actually won this thing in the past. My outside choice to make a run is Portugal. If I was a betting man, however, I’d go with Germany. The final will be played July 1 in Kiev.

The World Cup generated great ratings in the U.S. in 2010 so it will be interesting to see the reception for this tournament.

The usual mess for Italy in the run up to Euro 2012

The Euro 2012 tournament is less than a week away and the Italian national team find themselves in the usual state of disorder with an embarrassing loss to Russia in a friendly and of course, Italy is embroiled in yet another match fixing scandal.

What does it all mean? If history is any indicator, it probably means the Italians will win the tournament.