Euro 2012: Why Quarterfinal vs. Spain Is the Best Possible Outcome for England
Heading into any major tournament, avoiding the favorites is a fairly general rule of thumb to follow, for you don't want to be meeting the big-name teams until the latest possible moment.
Ideally, you don't want to even meet the big-name teams at all.
UEFA Euro 2012 is no different—teams will want to be avoiding the likes of Spain and Germany in the knockout stages of the tournament and hoping for an easy quarterfinal opponent.
Everyone except England, that is.
They should be cheering for a quarterfinal match against the hot-favorites of the tournament in Spain, and if current group standings continue as they are, they'll get that exact match.
After topping Group C, Spain will play the runner-up of Group D in the quarterfinals of Euro 2012. France are currently topping the group and should they beat Sweden today, will clinch their position atop of Group D. That leaves England sitting in second place—should they progress through Ukraine.
And then England vs. Spain would be the quarterfinal.
As scary and as daunting as it seems for Roy Hodgson's men, it's actually their best possible matchup. They were only ever going to play Spain or Italy in the quarterfinals and if the tournament so far is any indication of the performance we're likely to see in that match, England would rather play Spain.
England should rather play Spain than Italy.
It's not that Spain are an easy-beat, for anyone who has watched them play so far knows that statement to be completely false. Spain are the favorites, and they are the favorites for a reason. They are the best team at Euro 2012.
They have the best midfield at the tournament, and the ability to open up defenses seemingly at will—all whilst remaining consolidated at the back. They frustrate their opponents in to mistakes and starve them off possession—killing off any chance they have at fighting their way back in to a match.
Spain are clinical and they are very, very good. They are the team that everyone is gunning for.
Yet despite all of that, England should rather play them than take on the Azzurri.
Firstly, England wouldn't struggle against the tika-taka, possession-based football that they will come up against should they take on Spain. Where most teams would struggle should they not receive adequate time on the ball, England would not.
Spain are averaging more than 70 percent possession in Euro so far, whilst England are averaging just above 40 percent. In spite of this, they still remain undefeated and likely to progress through to the knockout stage of the tournament. According to WhoScored.com, they have been the third-best team in Euro 2012 so far despite the lack of possession.
Secondly, England are able to score goals and hang in games without a plethora of shots or time in attack. Roy Hodgson's men average just 10.5 shots per game so far in Euro 2012—the fourth-lowest of all 16 teams in the tournament.
Spain aren't allowing a great deal of shots per game—allowing the second fewest behind France—but this defensive strength would have a less of an impact against a team that isn't spending as much time in attack. A team, like England.
Then there's the midfield battle which we're likely to see between these two sides, as the juggernaut led by Xavi Hernandez takes on the experience and dogged determination of Steven Gerrard's men.
Again, England have the advantage here—especially in terms of interceptions, where Spain rank second-lowest in the tournament. The Three Lions are averaging five more interceptions per game than La Furia Roja, which could be critical in deciding the outcome of this one.
And in terms of style, you'd have to favor England against Spain more than against Italy. Spain offer a far greater attack than the Azzurri, but focus more on exposing their opponents than consolidating their own defense. That's not to suggest that Spain are a poor defensive side; it's simply to state that Italy would more likely to meet England's defense with defense, whereas Spain will meet it with attack.
England won't win in an attacking shootout with Spain—that would surely result in defeat for Roy Hodgson's men and the dismissal of England from the tournament. However, they also might not win a grind-out match against Italy, with their tough, physical play and defensive strength.
Their best chance at success is to turn their match against Spain in to a typical grind-out battle, where the battles wages heavily in midfield but doesn't progress much further either way. They have the ability to score goals on the break, or from set pieces, and have enough defensive strength to hold off Spain—who aren't looking as dominant up front as some might expect.
The absence of a threat up front in all of Spain's performances so far no doubt a confidence booster for England, who will feel that their defense can hold out La Furia Roja long enough to cause one of the upsets of the tournament.
Because, at the end of the day, much of Euro 2012 has been a pride thing for England.
They entered the tournament with the stigma attached of a perennially under-performing nation that always bows out in the quarterfinals against a team that they probably should have beaten.
Losing to Spain—the hot favorites and reigning world champions—carries far less embarrassment and criticism than they would surely receive should they fall to the Azzurri. Again, that doesn't mean that they wouldn't receive criticism for their loss; it simply means that Hodgson and his men would save themselves from further criticism should they lose to Spain and not Italy.
When you think about it, Spain is actually the better matchup for England.
As daunting as it seems, England would rather take on Spain's defense than Italy's, and they would rather try and create turnovers against Spain's midfield than against Italy's.
They have less to lose against Spain than they would against Italy. Against Spain, they might show less caution in attack and try and create more chances. They might be more inclined to fight fire with fire, rather than letting their defense try and take down the Italian attack.
Simply put, England have more to gain against Spain than they do against Italy.
They have more to gain, less to lose, and I'd argue, match up better across the pitch. Why wouldn't they want to take on Spain?
I mean, it's not like they have a choice or anything.
Do England stand a chance against Spain?
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