Spain started with a 4-3-3 but with no natural striker, with Iniesta, Silva and Fabregas starting as a front three, assisted by Xavi.
The tactical battle was always going to be interesting in this match and it certainly lived up to it.
Spain's shape, even without a proper striker, was a 4-3-3 with Iniesta, Silva and Fabregas as the front three with freedom to interchange in the middle. One of the problems for Spain in the first half, far from lack of reference point, was a simple lack of penetration. Italy pressed higher than expected, especially the midfield three of Pirlo, Marchisio and Motta and this made it difficult for Spain to thread passes through and combine in the middle.
It also slowed their game down and with a lack of penetration in the wide areas, Italy dealt with their threat well. Iniesta, who had a great game, was their main source of danger with his control and direct dribbling threatening to penetrate the Italy backline.
However Italy also provided a very good defence-attack balance. One of the notable things about the pressing and shape of both the sides was that Spain's intent on pressing high often meant that their front three pressed Italy's three CBs. What that meant was either the full backs had to go and pressure high on Italy's wing backs, or leave it to the midfield three who because they were playing in the middle, came late to pressure and in turn opened up the space in the midfield for Italy to exploit.
|Spain pressing high on Italy's defenders and wing backs, leaving space in the channels.|
Because Spain's full backs were relied upon to give width to their attacks, it left space for Italy to exploit in the channels, especially if the full backs had to go out to pressure the wing backs. Both Pirlo and De Rossi played some lovely passes for Balotelli and particularly Cassano between the centre backs and full backs which stretched Ramos and Pique. The best chance of the half came from this a minute from the end when Cassano got free behind Alba, which dragged Ramos out of the centre and the striker's cross was met by Motta in the middle whose header was well saved by Casillas.
Del Bosque clearly needed to change the gameplan or tactics for the second half and although there were no substitutions, Spain came out with more intent; there was more verticality with runs behind the Italy backline, which allowed for a quicker tempo in the passing, more space in the middle and created chances for the Spanish early on in the second period.
However Italy were still a threat on the counter attack with their strikers in the channels, with Balotelli too ponderous on the ball, wasting a great chance after Ramos had made a mistake and allowed him in.
Prandelli decided to bring on Di Natale to provide more of a threat behind the Spanish defenders and it paid off soon after. Spain were playing with Xavi very close to the front three and what that meant was when those four pressed high, it isolated the two holding players in midfield for Spain. For the goal, Italy managed to pass past the front four and then Pirlo, making a break from midfield, dribbled past Busquets and provided a good throughball behind Pique for the substitute Di Natale who finished it off well.
Although Italy were constantly providing a threat in the channels, Spain stuck to their gameplan, bringing the ball out of the back, enticing the Italian midfield to pressure high, and then taking advantage of the space left with quicker transitions and more runs behind the defenders. In short, they were much more of a threat vertically.
Fabregas's lovely diagonal run between the left wing back and centre back made it 1-1 after good play by Silva and Del Bosque immediately brought him off for Navas.
That provided more depth and penetration on the right for Spain and also allowed Arbeloa to sit in a deeper position, which made Italy less of a threat in the channel between him and Pique.
Del Bosque then brought on Torres to cause danger behind for Spain and allowed them to use quicker transitions and isolate the Italian centre backs 3v3. The Chelsea front man made some great vertical runs behind the Italian defence, though couldn't provide the finishing touch to get the winner.
Alonso also tested with a shot from just outside the area and both teams began to find more space between the lines on the counter attack, due to the impact of the substitutions or most probably tiredness from the midfields. In the end a draw was probably the fairest result to end the game.