Spain vs. Italy: Grading the Spanish Players in Euro 2012 Group C
Spain finally got their turn to go to work on defending their European championship at Euro 2012 on Sunday, as they opened up against Italy.
La Furia Roja surprised many, as manger Vicente Del Bosque started the game with six midfielders in the lineup, including Cesc Fabregas as a “false number nine.”
The game saw the ball possession control of Spain that we are used to seeing. It was a different back line than what we are used to seeing, as Sergio Ramos moved to center back, replacing the injured Carles Puyol. Alvaro Arbeloa took Ramos’ usual national team spot at right-back, while Jordi Alba took the left-back spot—a spot Joan Capdevila held for many years.
David Villa is very much missed, and it was evident both on the pitch as well as by Del Bosque deciding to go with Fabregas at the nine and not go with one of his strikers to begin the game.
The game saw good play from a few of the Spanish players like Xavi and Iker Casillas, while others simply played poorly. Overall, I felt the 1-1 tie was the deserving score line for both teams.
So how would I grade the Spanish players in this first game for Spain in Euro 2012?
Here are my grades for each Spanish player in their 1-1 tie against Italy.
Casillas and the Defense
Iker Casillas: Great save on Pirlo in the 13th minute. Great stop on Marchisio in the 35th minute. Saint Iker saved a great header from Thiago Motta close to halftime. Casillas didn’t see too much action as Spain controlled the possession. Regardless of the Spanish ball possession, Iker made the big saves on Cassano and Marchisio; he couldn’t do anything about Antonio Di Natale’s goal.
Iker would get an “A,” but there was a goal allowed, thus he gets an A-.
Sergio Ramos: Ramos looked shaky throughout the game. He fouled Cassano in the 12th minute, which lead to a good free-kick opportunity for Andrea Pirlo. Ramos had a huge mistake at in the 52nd minute, as Mario Balotelli beat out Ramos to take the ball and headed towards the net. But Ramos made up for it by tracking down the Italian, who looked like he was walking towards Casillas to take a shot.
Throughout the game, Ramos did not properly mark his opponent. Di Natale almost made it 2-1 Italy after Sergio lost his player and allowed the Italian to get a look towards net.
Overall, it looked like Ramos was not very comfortable playing center back even though he played that position for most of the Liga season at Real Madrid. Poor game overall. Let’s hope Sergio Ramos gets back to playing in top form as we are used to seeing. Ramos gets a "D" with the plus for his stop on Balotelli.
Gerard Pique: Pique, like Ramos, had a poor game. Pique allowed Antonio Di Natale to get past him for the goal. He was shaky throughout the game.
Maybe it’s opening-game jitters, but Gerard needs to be more aware of his opponent to mark just like I mentioned about Sergio Ramos. Credit goes to Italy’s Andrea Pirlo for making a fabulous pass to Di Natale. It wasn’t a great game from Pique, but it wasn’t as bad as Ramos’ game.
Alvaro Arbeloa: AA played well. He came up many times to play offense. For me, out of all the defenders, Alvaro had the best game against Italy. It’s not like the team demanded too much from him, but he wasn’t making mistakes like Ramos or Pique. I think the Real Madrid man had a very good game, and I hope to see more of this kind of play from Alvaro as the tournament continues for La Roja.
Jordi Alba: Alba started off trying to do too much in my opinion. He tried to come up on offense but didn’t make too much of a contribution. Alba did make a few good plays, but he was beaten to the ball several times throughout the game. He missed a tough volley in the 74th minute.
Not a bad game from Jordi Alba in his first European Championship game. He needs to put a bit more focus on staying back because there were several times where Italy had chances to counterattack when Alba was up trying to play offense.
Sergio Busquets: Busi was off his game. He did not complete the passes he’s so used to making at FC Barcelona. Credit has to go to Italy as well for that. It seemed like he and Xabi Alonso were the two mids that just couldn’t get in sync with their teammates. One bad pass after another.
Busi gave the ball away in the 57th minute, ending the potential Spanish attack. Overall, I give Busquets a C-. He needs to step it up.
Xabi Alonso: Like Busquets, Xabi Alonso had an average game. Alonso made a great sliding stop of the ball in the 33rd minute to break up a potential Italy attack. But he missed long passes throughout the game as he was trying to find David Silva and Cesc Fabregas instead of looking for Xavi or Andres Iniesta.
Alonso did have a great look at goal late in the game as Xavi set him up to tee off, but Alonso put the ball to the right of the post. I have a lot of trust in Xabi Alonso, and he will definitely bounce back. He gets a C for an average/OK game.
Xavi: From the beginning, we all saw how the team relied on Xavi to set up the Spanish offense. Xavi demanded the ball and controlled things for Spain. The little general began looking to create plays for Cesc and Silva.
It was David Silva who helped out Xavi the most by beginning to set things up at ‘8. The Barcelona man played fantastic throughout the game. He had a great pass to Andres Iniesta near halftime, and he missed a shot in the 51st minute.
Xavi missed a free-kick opportunity in the 80th minute, but credit goes to Italy’s wall for blocking the shot. Xavi played great, but my concern is that this team may rely on him too much to create the right pass. Xavi Hernandez is the engineer of La Furia Roja’s offense, but I expect to see Del Bosque look for Juan Mata to come in next game and help take a bit of pressure of Xavi in the midfield for Spain. Xavi gets an A.
The 'Forwards' and Subs
Andres Iniesta: If Xavi had a very good game, Iniesta had a even better game. Don Andres began running the break in the 11th minute and continued to be the Italians’ biggest nuisance throughout the game.
Iniesta was making plays and took a good shot at net in the 25th minute. He sent in a ball for Xavi in the 30th minute, which was just a bit off. He came back and made Gianluigi Buffon work, as Iniesta took another strong shot just a minute later. Iniesta got the angle wrong, as he almost got his goal before halftime. But again, solid Italian defending made that shot tough for him.
In the second half, Don Andres continued to be the “crack” we all know he is. A great pass from Xavi led to a good look at ’52. Towards the end of the game, Andres was trying to set up Fernando Torres but to no avail. The Italian defenders where constantly worried about Iniesta, and it was his great play that lead the offensive opportunities along with Xavi setting up plays.
Overall, I give Andres Iniesta an "A." Grande Andres!
Cesc Fabregas: This was the surprise of the game, as Cesc was placed a forward by Del Bosque. Cesc started off terribly, as he kept coming back to midfield to try and help set up the offense. David Silva moved to striker many times. Fabregas needed to take the shot in the 32st minute as he hesitated.
Cesc did not play well for most of the first half, but he later turned it around late in the first half. He had a shot on goal in the 50th minute. After Di Natale scored to give Italy the lead, Cesc answered back. He got the equalizer after a fine pass from David Silva found Fabregas, who put it past Buffon to make it 1-1.
Cesc came off at the 74th minute for Fernando Torres. Overall, I give Cesc a C+ because he had a poor game for the first 40 minutes he was in there, but he improved in the rest of the 34 minutes he was in the game, capped off with the goal that gave Spain a share of the points.
David Silva: “Chino” Silva had a solid game for Spain. He created plays from the beginning and was the right choice to start by Del Bosque. Silva was the lone player who kept attacking during the opening minutes of the game.
He almost had goal in the 11th minute as he came attacking from the right. He had another good shot at Buffon in the 14th minute.
Silva played great in the first half. He conintued his excellent play in the second half, as he made the great pass to Cesc Fabregas for the equalizer in the 64th minute. Silva was taken out of the game right after the Fabregas goal and was replace by Jesus Navas.
David Silva was one of two players (along with Andres Iniesta) I mentioned in Michael Cummings' article "Euro 2012 Power Rankings" who will be the key players for Spain. Today, both Iniesta and David Silva showed us why I chose them to be so essential to Spain's success.
As well as Silva played on the right, I think Del Bosque should put him at midfield next game to help take the pressure off Xavi in creating plays. Silva gets an A.
Jesus Navas: Navas came in as a substitute for David Silva in the 64th minute. He had great speed as usual, causing problems for the Italian defense for the time he was in there.
There’s not too much to criticize, as he was not a major factor in the game. Navas was open when Fernando Torres had a breakaway against Buffon late in the game, but El Niño did not set up the Sevilla man.
Navas gets a B. My hope is that Jesus Navas starts next game against Ireland.
Fernando Torres: Replaced Cesc in the 74th minute. Torres had two excellent opportunities late in the game to give Spain the victory, and both times he made the wrong decision.
El Niño missed the opportunity Spain had to win the game, as Torres had a one-on-one against Buffon in the 75th minute. Torres tried to go around Gianluigi, but good job by the Italian, as he stayed with Torres and won the battle.
Torres missed perhaps the best opportunity to give Spain the win in the 85th minute, as Buffon was off his line and Torres had a wide-open goal. Torres could have passed it to Navas, who was open on the right side, but he decided to take the shot. Torres’ chip sailed high and missed.
Torres wasted the opportunities he had. I hope he can rebound later in the tournament, but I'm not going to hold my breath. El Niño gets a D.
Final Overall Grade and Conclusion
My grade for the entire team is a C+.
Maybe I'm being harsh given there could have been first-game jitters, but I felt they could have shown much more in this game. La Roja controlled the ball. There were solid stops by Casillas. The team responded immediately to Italy’s goal thanks to Cesc and created enough plays to win.
But the defense was not at its best, there were plenty of bad passes, and they did not capitalize on the opportunities created by Iniesta, Xavi and Silva as well as missed chances by Torres.
Spain will definitely bounce back against Ireland. Del Bosque will have to mix things up. Look for Juan Mata and Pedro to get in next game, as well as Fernando Llorente to start. Javi Martinez could come in to play CB and have Sergio Ramos move back to his regular national team position of RB.
Spain takes on Ireland this Thursday, June 14 from the PGE Arena in Gdansk, Poland.
Vamos Roja! Vamos España!
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