Thursday June 27, 2013
Kick off: 20:00
Estádio Plácido Castelo
Spain sailed through Group B, untroubled by either Uruguay or Nigeria and utterly dismissive of minnows Tahiti. Vicente del Bosque’s men began with a 2-1 defeat of Uruguay before pummelling Tahiti 10-0 (Chelsea’s Fernando Torres scored four goals, while Barcelona striker David Villa managed three) and finishing with a 3-0 rout of Nigeria.
Goals have been, as usual, easy to come by for a Spain side that is proving almost unbeatable on the international stage, even if top clubs Barcelona and Real Madrid were upstaged in Europe by the Bundesliga’s Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, respectively.
Meanwhile, Italy fell to a slightly controversial 4-2 defeat to Brazil in their final group game; Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini scored to bring the score to 3-2 but the Brazilians were furious because referee Ravshan Irmatov initially blew for a penalty in the area before allowing the goal to stand.
That blip aside, the Italians registered two wins in their opening games – 2-1 against Mexico and 4-3 against Japan to book a semi final berth. Should Cesare Prandelli’s men have been so troubled by the Japanese? Probably not… but the Azzurri have a reputation for being slow starters in major tournaments and Spain will do well to be very cautious of their opponent’s goal scoring ability, particularly under Prandelli.
What the Coaches Say
Vicente del Bosque (Spain): “For us, Italy is a challenge in front of us as we try to get to the final. I imagine for Italy it’s very important because the loss is fresh in their minds from the European final, and I am sure they are thinking of revenge. This [the defeat to Spain] happened over a year ago. They’ve kept the same group – a good one. They’ve kept the same coach, and they will come after us.”
Cesare Prandelli (Italy): “Spain are in much better shape than us, given the ease with which they qualified. They have a clear identity and are clear favourites. Spain are the best team in the world and they have proved that over the last four or five years. They are almost impossible to beat. One would never like to play them, but we have to and I am convinced that we can make it difficult. This challenge always creates great motivation.”
Both coaches have refused to comment on the possible match with Brazil, a sign they realise this semi final will be a massive test of their squad’s capabilities, ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil next year.
Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas has struggled to retain his No 1 position in the squad, despite del Bosque’s assurances, after a horrible end to the 2012/13 season saw him benched by former coach Jose Mourinho. The veteran remains the captain of the national team though and early indications are he will start this semi final.
Elsewhere, del Bosque will only have to find replacements for Barcelona’s Cesc Fabregas and Valencia’s Roberto Soldado. The pair have unconfirmed injury problems and are doubts for the fixture. Replacements, though, are plenty. Two former Valencia forwards – David Villa and Juan Mata are among the options, as is Manchester City’s David Silva.
Probable Line-Up: Casillas; Arbeloa, Ramos, Pique, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Pedro, Torres; Silva
Meanwhile, Prandelli has the unenviable task of replacing AC Milan’s Mario Balotelli. The 22-year-old is a powerhouse going forward and will be missed. Another Milan player – Ignazio Abate – is also unavailable, meaning Prandelli could switch to a three-man defence, with Andrea Barzagli, Chiellini and Christian Bonucci in front of Gianluigi Buffon.
Probable Line-Up: Buffon; Barzagli, Chiellini, Bonucci; Maggio, Pirlo, Rossi, Giaccherini; Candreva, Montolivo; Gilardino