Spain's Sergio Ramos kicks to score a penalty goal against Portugal during the penalty shoot-out in their Euro 2012 semi-final soccer match at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk, June 27, 2012. (Photo : REUTERS/Juan Medina)
Italy and Spain are both notable defensive clubs, despite their defensive play being completely different.
Spain is a possession first club who defense comes from keeping the ball away from opponents, while Italy sits back and absorbs pressure and prepares for a counter attack.
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Nonetheless, both teams have a plethora of strong defenders on the backend that have brought them this far. How do they compare?
Spain has essentially went with the same core of defenseman for the majority of the tournament: Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba, and Alvaro Arbolea. The rest of their defenders Juanfran, Javi Martinez, and Raul Albiol have barely seen time in the tournament. Albiol has the most experience by far of the three with 34 caps for the international team, but he has yet to play one game in the tournament. Martinez has one game played though he only has eight game of international experience.
Spain's backend has often been noted for being its weak point, but Spain's defenseman are big and fast and generally aggressive on opposing offenses. Spain has given up prime opportunities throughout the tournament on defensive mistakes, but they have yet to give up a goal since the opening match against Italy.
Their best match defensively (aside from Ireland) was against France in which they only gave the French four attempts on goal for the full 90+ minutes.
However it is essential to note that this same defense barely gave superstar Crisitano Ronaldo any space in the semi-final against Portugal, meaning that they can handle anyone.
Also worthy of note is that Spain's defenders have championship experience that Italy's lack.
Key Player: Sergio Ramos
Ramos will likely take on striker Mario Balotelli who gave him problems in the teams' opening clash. He must be at his aggressive best to keep Super Mario at bay and avoid the fate of the Germans when Balotelli destroyed them with timely scoring and created chances out of nothing. However, Ramos has a penchant for being overaggressive and taking fouls in prime scoring areas; he needs to be responsible and senstive to the circumstances.
Italy's defense is a more traditional stay at home style in which the players absorb pressure and fireback on the counter. Thus far the strategy has provided mixed results offensively, but there is no doubt of Italy's defensive efficiency. Unlike Spain, coach Cesare Prandelli has elected to use a depth of defenseman throughout the tournament with only Leonardo Bonucci playing in every match. Giorgio Chiellini has played four matches while the rest of the defense have played three or less.
Overall, Italy's defense is bigger than Spain's, causing more problems for their small forwards and midfielders, but the Italians are also older and slower than Spain's offerings and the type of offense strategy Spain employs coupled with Italy's pressure absorbing type of play could ultimately fatigue the Italian defense and play against them.
Also worthy of note is that Italy gets one day of rest less than Spain. However, pundits made the same comment about Germany having two more days of rest than Italy; a fact that ultimately meant nothing.
Key Player: Leonardo Bonucci
Bonucci is the only Italian defender to play in every single match; an ironic fact considering that many pundits saw him as the weak link in the Italian defense. However, he has superseded expectations and been solid throughout the tournament. He needs to continue his upward trend in play against Spain if this team is to win. If he proves critics right and has a poor performance, Italy has no chance.
Advantage: EVEN (Slight Edge to Spain)
Italy is older, but deeper. They also play a more traditional defensive style that makes less obvious mistakes than the Spanish defense. However, Spain has World Cup and Euro Cup championship winning players that have faced the pressure of a championship match and this experience. They know what to do to win in the big moments.
How do Spain and Italy's Goalkeepers Match up? Find out HERE.
Which Team has the better Midfield? Find out HERE.
Which Team has the better Strikers? Find out HERE.