Sunday, June 22, 2008

Luis the shameless tempts fate

Euro 2008.
EURO 2008 QF: Spain v Italy, Vienna

With the shockwaves of last night's Russian revolution still reverberating far from the scene of the Dutch massacre in Basel, Spain and Italy cross swords for the final place in the EURO 2008 semi-finals.

If previous form were any guide, Spain are in for a hiding after both first-round winners Croatia and the Netherlands came a cropper to less-fancied sides.

Italy on paper have the uphill task after losing their Milanese midfield duo of Gennaro Gattuso and Andrea Pirlo to suspension in their final group game against France.

Spanish coach Luis Aragones, never the humble soul, gave his verdict thus: "I am convinced we will win," he spouted to reporters. "I am sure we are going to go through."

It is true that Spain's players and fans have never felt such confidence in the final stages of a competition, since perhaps their last Euros win in 1964.

While it is refreshing to hear a manager not trot out the usual platitudes about respecting the opposition, Aragones has at the same time placed his head on the parapet and bellowed to the Italian archers below, 'Gimme your best shot'.

Striker Luca Toni is prime candidate to make Luis eat his words, while the Italians' ace in reality is their last line of defence, Gianluigi Buffon.

The Italian stallion's penalty stop against Romania and successive saves have been worth millions of Euros alone, although he will want to forget the three he conceded against Holland.

Once more, the Italians seem to perform best when up agaainst it, as Buffon concurred.

"Last week we also had to keep an eye on what was happening in the other match. Now, our fate lies in our own hands. That's important."

Both teams will have felt at home today, as Vienna sweltered in temperatures bobbing around 33C. Unlike them, I cooled off by taking a swim in the Danube, half an hour downstream, although the powerful current almost carried me as far as Bratislava.

On the packed U-Bahn travelling to the ground, the Spaniards chanted "This is not a metro, it's a sauna!", as well as, "Villa the Wonder," and "Fernando Torres, what a beautiful No.9". The blue-shirted fans retorted with invocations to "Go and eat your Paella".

Italy and Spain seem to have so much in common as countries and football cultures, which makes rare meetings like tonight that little bit more exciting. Spain won the most recent clash, a friendly 1-0 in March.

Like Italy's tag as world champions, that victory will mean nothing at kick-off.

A warm and tasty Euro-Latino football feast awaits...

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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