Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Agnew & Balague speak to Soccerphile

Euro 2008.
Following Spain's dramatic penalty victory over Italy yesterday, Soccerphile spoke to two of Europe's most respected football writers, respective experts on the countries in the Vienna quarter-final clash.

GUILLEM BALAGUE is a familiar face in the UK media. London correspondent for Spanish football daily AS and Sky Sports' regular Spanish football expert, Balague has written for a variety of publications and pens a weekly European football column in London's Metro. His own footballing thoughts can be found at www.guillembalague.com.

What was your immediate reaction to Fabregas' penalty?It was like a final to us. We have always stumbled in the quarter-finals so we were trying to beat our history as well as Italy, and we beat them both.
We played wonderful football as well. The key was to be patient, pass the ball and control Luca Toni. Marchena and Puyol did reall well and everything worked fine against a very mediocre side to be honest. Italy were very disappointing.

They seemed to miss Pirlo badlyI thought Italy's attitude was wrong from the beginning. Their tempo was too slow and they just pumped balls to Toni, very disappointing from a side which has better players than what they showed.

Spain must be overflowing with confidence nowIt feels like a new tournament has just started because we were talking about reaching the quarter finals before it started.

So is all Spain on fire now?
Even in Barcelona! (Guillem's home town)

Has the perennial jinx on Spain now at last been lifted?There is something called winning culture which I believe in. If we weren't winning it was because we didn't have it. It's more than anything to do with nationality. On nights like this it gets created so it is a historical night for us.

Next up are the Russians again
But we know how to play them. We can play them. They are fantastic and it will be much better to watch than the first game.

* * *

PADDY AGNEW is World Soccer magazine's Italian football expert, Rome correspondent for the Irish Times and author of the book "Forza Italia", a journey into Italy's football culture.

Did Italy deserve to lose?
It was the worst game I have seen in the tournament so far, and you could argue that neither team deserved to advance. Spain tried to create more but Italy gave a very solid defensive performance.
Italy did not do a lot going forward. At times the game was so hidebound technically it was about as interesting as watching two shy porcupines make love.

Could Italy have approached it with a different mentality then?I don't think they could have done a lot more because they were missing Pirlo, their creative midfielder and because they came to this tournament with two possibilities of scoring goals, via the midfield of Pirlo, De Rossi and Camoranesi and via Luca Toni in attack.
But Toni did not look the player he was and since he had a bad tournament, Italy were a blunt instrument up front. Since they did not have Pirlo, the whole responsibility for creating chances was on the shoulders of De Rossi and I don't think he did much with it.
Casillas certainly did not have a lot of work to do.

So was the squad lacking depth, or could the coach have done things differently?
The squad, minus Cannavaro, was the one which won the World Cup. I don't think you can argue there was a player who did not play who should have played.
He tried all the options available to him. But if Luca Toni was off form there were not too many alternatives, no plan B. Donadoni has based their game more around one man than Lippi ever did. They were very cagey. It almost looked as if they were playing for penalties.

And Spain?
Spain were not a lot better. It was not a great game at all. They had more options, but it will be an interesting game against Russia. It won't be as negative because Russia will not be as tightly organised as Italy and they have a lot more firepower going forward. They could really embarass Spain.

What now for Donadoni?You would need about three psychologists to work out what it was he was saying in his press conference. He does not know what he wants to do and my reading is that the FIGC does not know whether they want to sack him or confirm him.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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