Monday, 11 June 2012

Sun Tzu: Italy Vs Spain



Okay, maybe a little obvious but...well, if any game was suitable for various shoehorned  Sun Tzu quotes...

He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot, will be victorious.

Italy's approach, I think. They packed the midfield and played around Spain in exactly the same way that Spain played around them. An odd almost mirroring of the Spanish approach, which must have taken the Spanish by surprise. The lack of a Spanish attacking threat (they had multiple midfield threats, of course) meant that Italy could afford to lose the ball on occasion in midfield and not be susceptible to the sudden, devastating counter-attack. In turn, this allowed Italy to feel more confident in their own passing game; a missed pass did not mean that Villa or Torres (ahem) would be running behind their defence like a flash. 
Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance.
Italy played this par excellence. They way they played was clearly planned before they knew what the Spanish formation would look like; the lack of a Spanish striker simply meant that it was a less risky strategy. Italy may well have been the underdogs here but they certainly let Spain think that this meant more than it did; margins are fine in all these games, even the ones where one team 'clearly' outscores the other (The Czech's were bad, Russia were goodish... there wasn't as much in it as the score seems to say). But Spain, it seems, stretched their supposed superiority to its logical limit and tried to drown the Italians in midfield mazes... it just didn't work.

Invincibility lies in the defence; the possibility of victory in the attack.

Contrast Spain's play when Torres did come on... much more direct and much more able to get beyond the Italian lines. Spain temporarily forgetting that their suffocating midfield play is fundamentally defensive was a costly error. It's one you hear a lot of critics make; the assumption is that Spain are a formidable attacking threat because they are moving forward and sideways through midfield whereas their high tempo intensity is in fact an exemplar of  'the best form of defence is attack'. When they did realise that the possibility of victory is in the attack, they did better. If Torres had been on form, Spain would have won but the Italians rightly gambled that no main focus to the Spanish attack = no immediate counter-attacking threat. 

Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.
 The Italians didn't take on the doggedness expected of them, refused from the off to play the '20% possession, breakaway, set-piece goal' game that everyone (me included) thought they would. Most teams have played this role with the assumption that playing the Spaniards at their own game is bound to fail. Now maybe this is true of many teams, but Italy clearly felt they had the players (they had Pirlo, for instance) to play the 'Spanish' way.  Now Italy still had less of the ball (35% possession) but they didn't act like they had, refused to be pigeonholed into that grim resistance and I think, importantly, Spain wouldn't have felt that superior in possession. Italy played like they weren't fighting for survival and became self-fulfilling.
If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril.
 It was an incredibly arrogant way for Spain to play, especially against Italy. They could have lost. Maybe should have. They seemed ignorant of the fact that, despite the brilliance of their midfield play in tournaments, they have still relied on a goalscorer to actually score goals (on Villa, on Torres). And if they thought that Italy would just sit back and let them play then, well, they just didn't think things through. There was no Plan B (unless 'bring on Torres' was the Plan B). Already, they are blaming the pitch for their failure to defeat Italy when it should be clear that the pitch allowed snappy passing, even if the pressing Italians didn't. There was lots of snappy passing, from both sides. 

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