By John Parolin, ESPN Stats & Information
Spain won its third-straight major tournament title Sunday, finishing a successful EURO 2008 title defense with a 4-0 win over Italy in Kiev.
Spain is the first team in history to win three major tournaments (EURO 2008, World Cup 2010 and EURO 2012) by exorcising a historical demon, beating the Italians for the first time at a major tournament. Italy previously had a 3-0-4 record against Spain in World Cup and EURO competitions.
Spain defended its European Championship by doing what it does best: creating and exploiting a possession disparity in the attacking third. Spain completed 179 of 227 passes into the attacking third against Italy (78.9 percent), while holding the Italians to 54.9 percent (67 of 122) passing into the attacking third.
Spain’s higher completion percentage stemmed from attempting high-percentage passes- The average Spanish pass into the attacking third traveled 16.0 yards, while Italy’s average pass traveled over seven yards further (23.2 yards).
Spain opened the scoring in the 14th minute with a David Silva header that capped off an impressive start for La Furia Roja. In the opening 15 minutes, the Spanish had 44 touches in the attacking third, tied (with themselves vs Ireland) for the most in the opening 15 minutes of a match this tournament.
Down 2-0 and without any substitutions left in the 60th minute, any chance the Italians had of climbing back in faded when Thiago Motta left with an apparent hamstring injury. Over the last 30 minutes of the match, Spain had a 237-99 passes completed advantage. After the Motta injury, Spain had a 17-0 touches in the box advantage.
Spain posted the second-best completion percentage on passes into the penalty area in a game this tournament. Spain completed 22 of 41 (53.7 pct) passes into the box and scored three times off those passes, while Italy completed only seven of 27 passes into the box (25.9 pct).
Italy’s midfield wizard Andrea Pirlo completed one of eight passes into the box (12.5 pct), his worst percentage of the tournament and worst in any game since completing one of eight (12.5 pct) for Juventus in a 1-0 win Jan. 8 at Lecce.
Pirlo wasn’t the only Italian who struggled. Striker Mario Balotelli finished the match with 33 touches in the attacking third, his second-highest total in a tournament game. However, for the first time this tournament (including his 19-minute substitute appearance against Ireland), Balotelli failed to record a single touch in the box.
Spain finished the tournament with 1,087 completed passes into the attacking third over six games, more than Ireland, Greece, Sweden, Poland and Denmark combined (1,068 in 16 games).
By John Parolin, ESPN Stats & Information
Spain and Italy will meet Sunday in Kiev in the EURO 2012 Final, the fourth EURO final between former group opponents. Italy and Spain drew 1-1 on Jun. 10, and Italy is unbeaten (3-0-4) at major tournaments against the Spanish.
Historically, Italy is the only side Spain has never beaten in at least five major tournament matches. However, Spain is playing for history of its own.
Winners of EURO 2008 and World Cup 2010, Spain looks to be the first team to win three straight major tournaments as well as the first to repeat as EURO champions. A Spain win would make La Furia Roja the second team to win the EUROs three times (Germany).
Italy’s last appearance in a EURO final was 2000, falling to France 2-1 in extra time. The Italians have not won the European Championship since 1968, a 2-0 replay win against Yugoslavia.
The Italians were opportunistic in the group stage draw against Spain, with Antonio Di Natale’s first touch of the game a 61st-minute goal after entering as a sub five minutes before.
Di Natale converted the only pass he received from midfielder Andrea Pirlo in the match to open the scoring. The matchup between Pirlo and Spain’s Xavi in the midfield was a microcosm of the match.
Xavi had over twice as many touches (121) as Pirlo (49) in the match and had a 10-3 advantage in passes completed into the penalty area. Pirlo created a single chance in the match, assisting on Di Natale’s goal with a perfectly-weighted pass.
Spain equalized three minutes later when Cesc Fabregas finished a David Silva pass. Spain pushed for a winner after Fernando Torres entered in the 74th minute, but could not crack the defense.
Overall, Spain had a 239-85 advantage on touches in the attacking third in their group match. There was a similar dynamic in Italy’s semifinal win against Germany, as the Germans posted a 249-92 touches advantage in the attacking third.
Germany had a 38-25 edge in the first 20 minutes. Once Mario Balotelli put the Italians up, the Azzurri were content to defend, and the disparity grew to 211-67 over the last 70 minutes of the match.
Balotelli recorded only 10 touches in the attacking third, his tournament-low in a start. However, his brace (on his only two shots on target) exemplified the attacking efficiency the Italians need when conceding such a drastic possession advantage.
Continued opportunistic finishing would be critical for an Italian win, especially when Spain has controlled the ball better than any other team in the tournament.
Spain has completed 909 passes into the attacking third in its five games, or 86 more than the bottom four teams - Ireland, Greece, Sweden and Poland - combined in their 13 games. Italy’s ability to defend against Spain’s possession-heavy style will decide the outcome.
ESPN’s Soccer Power Index rates Spain a 72.4 percent favorite to win the title. Spain is ranked first in SPI, based on offensive and defensive ratings that are each about 50 percent better than Italy, which SPI ranks 15th.
By John Parolin and Zack Singer, ESPN Stats & Information
Italy ousted Germany from EURO 2012 with a 2-1 win in Warsaw behind a pair of goals from Mario Balotelli. The Italians are headed to Kiev to face Spain, who advanced yesterday on 4-2 penalty kicks after a 0-0 draw with Portugal.
Balotelli had only 10 touches in the attacking third and three total shots against the Germans, but netted both of his shots on target. It’s the fewest touches Balotelli has had in the attacking third in any start this tournament.
Balotelli’s brace gives him three goals at EURO 2012, and ties him with Antonio Cassano for the most goals ever by an Italian at the European Championship.
The Italians held off German pressure to advance. Germany posted a 249-92 touches advantage in the attacking third on Thursday.
Through the first 20 minutes, the Germans had only a 38-25 edge until Mario Balotelli scored the first Italian goal. The Italians were content to defend after gaining the lead, and the disparity grew to 211-67 over the last 70 minutes of the match.
Germany tried attacking from the wings against the centralized Italian defense. The Germans had 72 percent of their total touches from the left or right third of the field, while the Italians had 46 percent of their touches in the central third.
Germany’s reliance on the wings led to tournament-high totals in crosses attempted (45) and completed (11), but Germany’s 24 completion percentage on crosses ranked 28th in a game this tournament.
Italy finished with 32 total clearances, 25 of which came from its own penalty area (both tournament highs). England posted 25 total clearances against Italy in its quarterfinal clash that went to extra-time. The previous high for clearances out of a team’s defensive penalty area was 17, by Greece in its quarterfinal game against Germany.
Italian midfielder Andrea Pirlo was named UEFA’s Man of the Match. Pirlo completed 60 of his 65 passes (92 percent) against Germany on Thursday. Pirlo has now improved his passing percentage in three straight games, topping 80 percent in each contest.
By Zack Singer, ESPN Stats & Information
Longtime rivals Germany and Italy square off in Warsaw on Thursday for a spot in the EURO 2012 Final.
Germany has only failed to advance to the final once in six previous European Championship Semifinal appearances, in 1988. Italy has never won a European Championship Semifinal, advancing to the 1968 Final on a coin toss, and winning a shootout to make the 2000 Final.
The Italians are undefeated against Germany at major tournaments, including two draws at the European Championships.
Germany eased into the semis with a 4-2 win over Greece. Die Mannschaft pressured Greece throughout the game, finishing with 349 touches in the attacking third and completing 271 passes into the attacking third. Both were single-game highs for any game at the European Championships since 1980.
Mesut Özil was the star of Germany’s quarterfinal win, with two assists on chipped passes. Germany has attempted only 108 chipped passes in the tournament, the fewest of any team. Despite rarely using this style of pass, Germany is tied for the tournament lead in assists on chipped passes (3).
Ball control has been a staple of the German attack at EURO 2012. The Germans are second in touches, touches in the attacking third, and touches in the box, trailing Spain.
One reason Germany has had so much possession of the ball is that its rarely given it away, committing just 39 turnovers, fewer than every knockout stage team except Portugal.
Italy’s place in the semis came via penalties, after drawing 0-0 with England. Despite not scoring, the Italians dominated the match, completing 801 passes, the second-most for any team at EURO 2012.
Andrea Pirlo will long be remembered for converting a chipped penalty kick with his side trailing in the shootout against England.
But Pirlo dominated play long before his signature moment, finishing with 154 touches, 39 more than anyone else on the team. Pirlo’s 118 completed passes were 23 more than any other Italian, and 88 of those passes originated in the middle third of the field.
The midfield has been the key for Italy throughout the tournament. Italy has 1,409 touches in the middle third, second to Spain, but leads the tournament in chances created on passes from the same area, with 17.
Bastian Schweinsteiger is available for Germany despite a nagging ankle injury. Schweinsteiger completed 92.4 percent of his passes against Greece, and had the second-most passes completed and attempted on the team.
Italy expects Giorgio Chiellini (hamstring injury), Daniele De Rossi (sciatic nerve problem) and Ignazio Abate (left leg injury) to be available. The only player suspended due to card accumulation is Italy’s Christian Maggio, thanks to the caution he picked up after coming on for Abate against England.
The winner of this match plays Spain in the final on Sunday in Kiev.
By Jason York, ESPN Stats & Information
Italy advanced past England in the EURO 2012 quarterfinals Sunday on penalty kicks, but the Italians carried the majority of play with a dominating performance in the midfield.
Midfielder Andrea Pirlo was the midfield maestro against England as he orchestrated his team’s possession by playing in a deeper, holding role. Pirlo had 68 percent of his touches during the game in the middle third of the field and 88 of his 118 completed passes (75 percent) originated from that area as well.
Italy was able to hold possession against England by dominating the midfield. Italy completed 801 passes against England, the second-best total of the tournament, and 464 of its pass completions originated from the middle third of the field.
Italy also had its best game of the tournament in terms of completed passes into the attacking third of the field. Italy completed 234 passes into the attacking third, the third-best single-game total of the tournament and created 28 scoring chances from those passes, tied for the highest single-game total since the advent of group play in 1980.
England captain Steven Gerrard struggled to complete passes into the attacking third of the field against Italy. Gerrard was only 4 of 15 on passes attempts into the attacking third. Gerrard had completed at least 11 passes into the attacking third in each of England’s first three games of the tournament.
Wayne Rooney’s impact on the game in terms of touches in the attacking third of the field progressively decreased for England. Rooney had 33 touches in the attacking third in 120 minutes of playing time, but only five touches came in the penalty area and none of them occurred in the 30 minutes of extra time.
By Zack Singer, ESPN Stats & Information
England and Italy meet in Kiev on Sunday in the final quarterfinal match of EURO 2012.
England appears in the knockout stage for the fourth time, having lost in the quarterfinals in their last trip to the European Championships in 2004. Italy, which won EURO in 1968, is making its fourth appearance in the knockout stage in the last five European Championships.
One of the keys to England’s success at EURO 2012 has been its success on crossing passes. England attempted only 53 crosses (8th out of 16 teams), but they averaged a tournament-high 34 yards.
Despite this, three of England’s five goals came off crosses, the most of any team in group play. England’s 15 completed crosses tied for second-most during the group stage. England completed 28 percent of crosses, third-highest during the group stage.
England has frequently been on the back foot at EURO 2012, with 243 touches in their own penalty area. That was the second-most for any team in the group stage, trailing only Denmark, who had 262.
Joe Hart has been a force between the posts for The Three Lions, with more touches than any other keeper in group play (50), and the second-most saves (14).
Wayne Rooney returned from suspension for England in their final group stage match against Ukraine, heading in the game’s only goal. Rooney’s suspension was the consequence of a mental lapse in England’s final EURO 2012 Qualifier.
But his head has always been a big asset at the Euros. Rooney has five headed shots at the European Championships in his career- four have been on-target and he’s scored twice.
While they will never be mistaken for Spain, Italy’s 80 percent passing rate is the highest for any Italian side at the Euros since the tournament installed group play in 1980.
It’s also the third-straight European Championship in which Italy’s passing percentage has increased. Italy‘s midfield passing is paced by Thiago Motta (85 percent) and Daniele de Rossi (83 percent).
Italy relied on strong defensive principles in group play, finishing with the third-most interceptions (60) and 10 offsides drawn (tied for the most).
But Italy may be without the anchor of their defense if Giorgio Chiellini fails to recover from the thigh injury he suffered in their game against Ireland. Chiellini led the Azzurri in tackles, clearances and interceptions during group play.
Neither England nor Italy has any players serving discipline suspensions. The winner faces Germany in the semifinals on June 28th.
By John Carr and Jason York, ESPN Stats & Information
Spain and Italy advanced from Group C Monday to earn their spots in the quarterfinal round.
With Jesus Navas’ 88th minute game-winning goal, Spain remains unbeaten in 17 straight competitive games (major tournaments or qualifying) and the Croatians, who finish third in the group, are eliminated.
Spain has now won its group in four consecutive major tournaments and is the only team to win its group in both the 2008 and 2012 Euro tournaments.
A key aspect of the Spaniards' game that has earned them such success is their passing proficiency, which they do in extraordinary bunches, especially in the attacking third of the field. Spain has completed a tournament-best 624 passes into the attacking third this tournament and has the two highest single-game totals. When Spain won EURO 2008, it completed 690 passes in the attacking third over the entire tournament (six games).
Spain’s midfield has completed exactly 1,300 passes in this tournament, which is higher than 12 teams’ total completed passes thus far. The all-time best total for number of passes completed by midfielders was set at EURO 2008 by Spain (1,571).
Xavi has been the catalyst for Spain at both tournaments. Xavi has completed the most passes among not only midfielders, but all players with 327. He should pass his tournament-high total of 342 at EURO 2008 in Spain’s next match as well as the best total since group play began in 1980 by Germany’s Matthias Sammer, who had 346 at EURO ’96.
Croatia completed only 216 passes against Spain, the fourth-lowest single-game total of the tournament. Croatia did give Spain some trouble in the attacking third of the field, however, creating four of its six scoring chances in the final 35 minutes, three of which came from crosses.
In Poznan, Italy finished second in the group with a 2-0 win over Ireland for its first win of 2012.
Antonio Cassano became the first Italian with three career goals at the European Championships when he headed home Andrea Pirlo’s corner in the 35th minute.
Substitute Mario Balotelli scored his second career goal for the Azzuri with an overhead kick in the 90th minute, the latest goal scored in the tournament thus far and another off of a corner. Three of Italy’s four goals in this tournament have come from set pieces.
The Italians had their best attacking performance of the tournament, putting 17 of their 27 shots on goal and scoring multiple goals for the first time in their last six matches overall. Italy’s 29 touches in the attacking penalty area and 86 passes completed in the attacking third were tournament highs for the Azzurri.
Italy’s 466 completed passes were its most in a EURO match since group play began in 1980 and its 83.2 percent passing accuracy is also a high for the Azzurri during that span.
On the other end, Ireland, which was eliminated from the tournament before the game started, completed its fewest passes (189) and had its worst passing accuracy of the tournament (66.8 percent). Ireland’s 370 total touches against Italy are the fewest by a team in a match so far this tournament and the third fewest in a EURO match since group play began in 1980.
Ireland is the fourth team to finish the group stage with a minus-8 goal differential, which is tied for the worst ever (Yugoslavia 1984, Denmark 2000, Bulgaria 2004).
By John Carr, ESPN Stats & Information
Spain dominated in every aspect of its game en route to a 4-0 victory over Ireland Thursday, which put the Spaniards on top of Group C and made Ireland the first team eliminated from this year’s tournament.
Spain set single-game highs at any Euro tournament since group play began in 1980 in completed passes (810), passing percentage (90.2) and touches in the attacking third of the field (327).
Fernando Torres got the scoring started early for Spain with his 4th-minute strike past Irish keeper Shay Given, which was the earliest by a Spaniard at the European Championships.
David Silva’s 49th-minute tally made him Spain’s top scorer since the last World Cup with 10 goals for his nation (David Villa has nine in that span) and made Spain the second team to score in the opening five minutes of both halves of a Euro match. The other was Croatia in its first match against Ireland this year.
The Spanish offense didn’t slow down there, though. Torres scored again in the 70th minute, his 30th international goal, making him Spain’s 3rd all-time scorer and putting him equal with David Villa as Spain’s top scorer at the Euros with four each.
Cesc Fabregas’ 83rd-minute goal for Spain made him the fifth player to score in each of his team’s first two games this tournament.
Ireland’s 198 completed passes, 67.6 percent passing accuracy and 107 touches in the attacking half of the field are all single-game tournament lows.
In their last five major competitions (Euro 2004-08-12 and the 2006-10 World Cups), Spain has played 22 games and allowed more than one goal on just one occasion, the 3-1 loss to France in the 2006 World Cup round of 16.
In the early game, Andrea Pirlo put Italy ahead in the 39th minute with the first goal scored on a direct free kick in this tournament and the first at Euros since 2004. All five of Pirlo’s international goals since July 2006 have been on free kicks (3) or penalties (2).
Croatia controlled the second half, however, with a 95-to-59 touches advantage in the attacking third of the field and three shots to zero from inside the penalty area. Mario Mandzukic’s game-tying goal came in the 72nd minute, making him the second Croatian with three Euro goals (career or single tournament). Davor Suker had three in the 1996 tournament.
Thursday’s draw means Croatia is undefeated in its last six meetings with Italy, and Italy is now winless in six straight games at major tournaments and five straight games overall (0-3-2).
By John Carr, ESPN Stats & Information
Defending World Cup and European Champion Spain was unable to defeat Italy in its tournament opener as it seeks to become the first country to win three consecutive major titles and back-to-back European Championships.
With Sunday’s 1-1 draw, Spain ended its 14-game win streak in competitive matches (World Cup and Euro Qualifiers). The result also keeps Italy unbeaten against Spain in seven meetings at major tournaments (3-0-4).
Antonio Di Natale scored for Italy on his first touch of the game to give Italy a 1-0 lead in the 61st minute after coming on as a sub five minutes earlier. Andrea Pirlo connected with eight different teammates during the game, but completed only one pass to Di Natale, which resulted in his first international goal since the 2010 World Cup.
Italian striker Mario Balotelli had four turnovers against Spain, tied for the most by a player in the tournament. Three of those turnovers came in the attacking third of the field, which is tied with Denmark’s Nicklas Bendtner for the most in the tournament.
Cesc Fabregas scored the game-tying goal for Spain in the 64th minute off of a David Silva flick into the box to prevent Spain from losing its Euro opener for the first time since 2000. Fabregas scored two goals in La Liga play this season that tied a match and gave Barcelona a point after previously trailing.
Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas had five saves against Italy, matching his total in seven qualifying matches.
In the second match of the day, Croatia dominated in the attacking third of the field to beat Ireland 3-1. Croatia completed 119 passes in the final third of the field against Ireland, who completed only 82. Croatia’s dominance in attacking possession was evident in the penalty area, where Croatia had a 17-10 touches advantage.
Mario Mandzukic got the scoring started early for Croatia with a header in the third minute before Sean St. Ledger pulled the Irish level with a diving header off of an Aiden McGeady set piece in the 19th. St. Ledger was the first defender to score in the tournament. Ireland scored five goals off of non-corner set pieces during qualifying, more than any other side.
Nikica Jelavic’s 43rd minute goal served as the game-winner for Croatia, but it was Mandzukic’s 48th minute header, his second of the game, that secured the win for Croatia. Mandzukic became just the second Croatian to score twice in a Euro match. Davor Suker scored twice in a Group Stage match versus Denmark in 1996.
He has two goals on two total shots in the tournament, which makes him the only player with a perfect shooting percentage on multiple shots -- Russia’s Alan Dzagoev scored twice on three total shots.
Before Sunday, Ireland had scored in 10 previous games at major tournaments and lost only once, a 2-1 defeat against Mexico in the 1994 World Cup.