Euro 2012 preview: Croatia

June 6, 2012
Euro 2012 preview: Croatia

Of the 16 teams in this competition, Croatia are one of the hardest to define. They seem trapped between a few different ways of playing, and don’t have a specific footballing identity

They are clearly not as good as the excellent side of 2008, despite retaining a few of the key players, and a hint of the same formation and style. The loss of Niko Kovac, the excellent holding midfielder, has never really been compensated for, and while their current defensive midfielder Tomislav Dujmovic is hard-working, he lacks the positional intelligence of Kovac.

When that is combined with a centre-back duo that badly lacks pace, Croatia are forced into a much more conservative style than four years ago. Slaven Bilic’s reputation has fallen sharply in that time, but he still has a chance to go out on a high before joining Lokomotiv. Read more »

Euro 2012 preview: Spain

June 6, 2012
Euro 2012 preview: Spain

Spain didn’t win World Cup 2010 through pure tiki-taka. They won because they mixed tiki-taka with different options that brought more directness and urgency to their play.

When they went with pure tiki-taka, they stumbled. The defeat to Switzerland in their opening game of the World Cup was a huge shock, but while the Swiss deserved credit for the way they defended, the real story was how painfully predictable Spain were in their build-up play. With Andres Iniesta on one flank and David Silva on the other, and both coming inside into the same area of the pitch, Spain often occupied a width of around ten metres with their attacking trio. With Xavi Hernandez, Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets all sitting behind the ball, Spain never looked like offering enough variation to make the breakthrough, and they lost 1-0. Read more »

Euro 2012 preview: Italy

June 6, 2012
Euro 2012 preview: Italy

In many ways, Cesare Prandelli isn’t a typical Italian coach. He’s a highly intelligent man, but one doesn’t think of him as a pure tactician like Marcello Lippi, Giovanni Trapattoni or Fabio Capello. He’s of an Arsene Wenger figure – he wants an overall, attacking philosophy rather than lots of specific tactics, and likes developing young players to suit his footballing identity.

He has attempted to move Italy towards a more positive style of play. That’s partly because it’s Prandelli’s natural style as coach, but also because Italy don’t have the secure defenders we’re accustomed to. The days of Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Nesta and Paolo Maldini have gone – Italy have good defenders, but not great ones. They’re more blessed in midfield.

Prandelli explains: “Many of the players felt that the time had come to play – I won’t say a different type of game because, in football, there is nothing new – but something else. Given that I have plenty of quality midfielders, I felt we should play to our strengths and with these players that means a much more attacking game.” Read more »

Euro 2012 preview: Ireland

June 6, 2012
Euro 2012 preview: Ireland

It is a decade since Ireland last qualified for a major international tournament, and the three biggest stars from the 2002 World Cup will represent Ireland again here – Shay Given in goal, Damien Duff on the wing and Robbie Keane upfront.

They’re probably still the three biggest stars, which rather sums up Ireland’s situation – they don’t have any world class footballers, and that has been foremost in Giovanni Trapattoni’s mind since he took charge of Ireland.

Trapattoni has focused upon creating a solid, reliable unit. Everything he says is about the system, about discipline. “I have given them balance, an equilibrium, and I have underlined that all 11 players attack and defend, without necessarily expecting to play well,” he once said. His quotes are celebrated, his playing style is not. Ireland are ultra-defensive. “In the past had ships with sails and they had to go wherever it was the wind took them,” Trapattoni says. ”Now, you can set a course and that is what I have done with this team. But if you depart from the course, then you end up on the rocks.” Read more »