Italy's Cesare Prandelli Finally Got One Wrong Against Spain

Trent Scott@ IIIJuly 3, 2012

KIEV, UKRAINE - JULY 01:  Giorgio Chiellini (C) of Italy is treated for an injury during the UEFA EURO 2012 final match between Spain and Italy at the Olympic Stadium on July 1, 2012 in Kiev, Ukraine.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Michael Steele/Getty Images

With allegations of scandal, injuries and questions of form swirling about them, Italy’s magical run to the Euro 2012 final was one filled with intrigue from the beginning.

During the actual play, manager Cesare Prandelli showed a tactical touch of genius in every contest leading up to the final, placing the Italians in the best position possible to win the tournament.

Spain finally showed their aggressive side and demonstrated to the world why they were rightfully the European champions, but Italy gave a good showing when the sides were relatively even.

Injuries are a part of the normal wear and tear of tournaments, but Prandelli’s initial selection of Giorgio Chiellini in the final was the first decision that Prandelli got wrong in the tournament.

Instead of returning Frederico Balzaretti back to his normal left back position, Chiellini was given the start but was not able to cope with the speed of Spain.

The decision had disastrous consequences in the opening quarter of an hour.

Chiellini had been selected for the match against Germany and had held up fairly well, even playing part in the first goal.

The problem, however, was that the Germans failed to test Chiellini’s fitness for the entirety of the first half and most of the second half.

WARSAW, POLAND - JUNE 28:  Marco Reus of Germany battles for the ball with Giorgio Chiellini of Italy during the UEFA EURO 2012 semi final match between Germany and Italy at National Stadium on June 28, 2012 in Warsaw, Poland.  (Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty
Alex Grimm/Getty Images

Mesut Ozil often drifted inside from the right, which was more suitable for Chiellini, as he simply shepherded the Real Madrid man into the rest of the defense.

With Jerome Boateng advancing so infrequently, there wasn’t a need for Chiellini to be tested by covering anyone with pace.

Not even with the reshuffle and the threat of Marco Reus or Thomas Mueller did there really seem a point where Chiellini was stretched.

Against Spain, however, Prandelli had the choice to move Balzaretti back to his more traditional left back spot or return Ignazio Abate to the right back spot.

Instead, Abate returned, and Balzaretti was dropped. It was a gamble; having left the match against Ireland with a leg injury, Chiellini was asked to play two matches in four days.

It proved to be the first gamble that Prandelli lost.

Chiellini was roasted in two of Spain’s three best attacking moves of the opening twenty minutes. The first saw Chiellini unable to hang with Cesc Fabregas before the midfielder dropped a dime on David Silva’s head for the opener.

The second saw Chiellini construct his own downfall after he was careless with the possession. In an effort to chase back, he came up lame and, though the chance went by with no damage, Chiellini’s night was over.

POZNAN, POLAND - JUNE 18:  Giorgio Chiellini of Italy gestures that he is injured as team mate Federico Balzaretti stands above him during the UEFA EURO 2012 group C match between Italy and Ireland at The Municipal Stadium on June 18, 2012 in Poznan, Pola
Christof Koepsel/Getty Images

It would be unfair to say that Chiellini’s selection was wrong because he was injured, much the same way that it would be unfair to describe Thiago Motta’s injury as a bad substitution.

Rather, it was not the best choice because coming into the tournament, there were already concerns about Chiellini’s health.

Playing despite two leg injuries within the span of a month was really playing a round of Russian Roulette, in a sense.

Having damaged a hamstring myself twice in a month before, it utterly negates the ability of the leg to be useful and leads to further injury happening far more quickly.

Given the likelihood of Spain to attack wider than Germany did, it would have made more sense to use a proper fullback for the cause, which is why the selection of Chiellini over Balzaretti was the decision that went against Prandelli.

Balzaretti had proven himself to be adept at attacking in the Ireland and England matches from the left and was far quicker than even a fully fit Chiellini was ever going to be.

Having slotted in at the 20-minute mark, Balzaretti put in the best Italian cross of the match and looked comfortable moving forward while tracking runs better than Chiellini had done.

It’s unfortunate for both players, as Italy, who were just about touching the red "E" on the petrol tank before the match, finally ran out of fumes with a half-hour to go.

Had they not conceded so early, perhaps they would have stood a better chance. That’s probably not likely, though, as Spain finally married possession with thrust in a brutal manner, but it is worth pondering.

It would have been unfair to Andrea Barzagli or Leonardo Bonucci to be dropped, and Prandelli had ruled out using the 3-5-2 from the start.

Thus, Prandelli made his decision. And, for once, it was not the masterstroke he had been nailing all tournament long.