Euro 2012: Why Spain's Defense Was More Impressive Than Its Offense
A lot of the talk about Spain during Euro 2012 focused on the team's approach in attack. The Spaniards were criticized for taking their "tiki-taka" style of play too far and being boring in the process.
Considering the fact that the side faced teams intent on stifling their approach with 10 men behind the ball or, as Portugal tried to do, pressuring high and taking the team out of its rhythm, meant that Spain's decision to control games as best as possible, something they do with beautiful possession, was a smart one.
But that topic can be saved for another time.
What Spain did defensively was more impressive than their offensive exploits during Euro 2012. Spain gave up very few quality chances to their opponents and nullified some major attacking threats during their run.
Firstly, some statistics from the overall tournament showed just good the Spanish defense was.
Spain conceded only one goal in 570 minutes of play. That was very much down to how the side defended during the very few moments in which their opponents attacked.
Italy was the team who scored that lone goal against Spain in the 61st minute of both sides first game of the tournament. That meant Spain went 509 minutes without conceding en route to the trophy with no goals at all conceded in the knockout rounds.
For even further evidence of their strength in defense, statistical analysis on Whoscored.com showed that Spain had the least amount of shots conceded per game—8.3 to be exact.
It goes just beyond the statistics though as each game presented its different threats. As a result, concentration levels in the Spanish defensive line had to be extremely high considering their lack of involvement through most games.
Looking at each game Spain played in their were very few clear-cut chances for their opponents during the entire tournament.
Italy had the goal, a Mario Balotelli chance that was snuffed out with a last ditch tackle as well as a powerful close-range header from Thiago Motta. Ireland posed no such threat in their game.
Croatia's Ivan Rakitic had a point blank range brilliantly saved by Iker Casillas. France had only four attempts with one on target. Portugal had a number of efforts in their game but weren't overly accurate.
It was Italy again that provided some very scary threats to the Spanish with Antonio Di Natale having two point blank opportunities snuffed out by Casillas.
That makes six clear-cut chances the Spanish gave up with five of them coming from the same team in separate games. In the end, a world-class keeper stood in the way and preserved his impressive statistical record.
On a different note, two players, Andrea Pirlo and Cristiano Ronaldo, posed the most threat of any individual opponent Spain had to deal with and they were dealt with quite effectively.
In the first game against Italy, Pirlo assisted on the lone goal and was given a little more freedom than the majority of his opponents. Things were different in the final.
Both Xavi and Cesc Fabregas were given the task of shadowing the deep-lying playmaker and did it with great effect throughout the game. When he moved further up the field, both Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso shared that duty.
The Spanish used a different strategy against a very familiar opponent in Portugal's Ronaldo. There was no player man-marking or shadowing the player during the game bu the team was quick to act when he was on the ball.
"Ronaldo is one of the best players in the world, but it’s not an individual duel with him. It’s a collective battle. You have to defend collectively, knowing that there is a chance he will get past you, but that if he does, there will be a team-mate there ready to cover you."
This is exactly what happened when the teams met. Constantly aware of the threat the attacker posed, Spain made sure that once a player was in place to slow down the Real Madrid man that help arrived as soon as possible.
Ronaldo wasn't necessarily hounded by three guys at a time when he had the ball, but the cover any individual defender received when he was in possession meant he was less of a threat than usual. The fact that none of his six shots were on target backs that up.
Spain's defensive pressure was a major factor in their defensive success with the work of the two more defensive midfielders and the back four really standing out.
The central partnership of Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique grew in strength as the tournament continued and both full backs had their moments against their individual opponents.
The team's combination of team defense, individual brilliance (with Casillas especially at the forefront) and tactical planning to nullify certain offensive threats were a significant, and ultimately more impressive, part of their Euro 2012 victory.
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