June 28, 2008

A Grand Finale

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

Sometimes it’s disappointing when the top two favoured teams heading into a tournament come to face each other the finals. Nobody really wants to root for a favourite; we’re a society that loves the underdog stories and seeing the best triumph sometimes upsets us. Look at the Red Sox and Patriots now. Nobody except loyalists, locals and bandwagon fans appreciate the Boston sports scene now. The rest of us — I’m in this group — wishes the city would burn to the ground (well actually not, because then they’d get the sympathy vote, but you know what I mean).

But it’s only sometimes when it’s a bad thing when the pre-tourney favourites are the last ones standing, in Euro 2008, it is a great thing.

Coming in, Germany and Spain had the best odds to take the entire tournament and — while the Germans did make it a bit tough on themselves — they both did not disappoint those who gambled on them. Now, after a tournament of tremendous football, we have a tremendous final on our hands. But what do I think will happen? Well here’s a few things that will have an effect on the match.

First and foremost, for all the talk of how talented Spain is up front, Iker Casillas has been beyond terrific in goal. The MVP of this team isn’t David Villa, the tourneys top scorer, it’s Casillas who has kept his team alive. If he doesn’t make those penalty saves against Italy, we’re probably looking at Germany-Russia. And yes, I believe that Russia would beat Italy.

A good subplot of the game is the injury concerns on both sides. The Spaniards were struck with a big blow by learning that David Villa has a torn muscle and won’t be able to play. His chemistry with fellow forward Fernando Torres was impecable and a big reason why the Spaniards were scoring so much. Cesc Fabregas will likely see time up front and he’s no slouch. The young Arsenal midfielder was the leader for Spain during their big second half against Russia.

On the German side, despite having a fractured rib, Torsten Frings will go for Germany and will do his best to stabilize their midfield and stifle the Spanish attack. He’s an underrated cog in the German machine and it showed against Turkey with Simon Rofles in his spot.

Speaking of midfield, it will be where this game is won. The Germans have to shut down Spain’s one-touch passing and quick, innovative play in the midfield to prevent their breakouts. The Spanish have to stop wingers Lukas Podolski and Bastian Schweinsteiger from getting space down the sides because they don’t need much room to swing the ball into Klose or Ballack.

Each team has it’s big weakness that the game will come down to. For Germany, their defence has a hole that nobody’s mentioned yet: Per Mertlesacker. As great as Christoph Metzelder has been, it’s mainly because his centreback partner has been letting the team down. Too often as Mertlesacker been caught flat-footed or in the wrong position on crossing passes. If he plays up to potential, Spain will have definite problems breaking in. For Spain, they aren’t nearly tough enough or tall enough to deal with German crosses — especially on set pieces. If Germany gets enough corners and enough favourable free kicks, they can seal the game from dead ball plays.

So what is my prediction for the Euro Final? As much as I’d hate to see my Germans lose, Spain will take it 3-1 and break their major tournament drought.

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