Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Grant Wahl: From Houston to Gdansk, my diary of Euro 2012's first weekend

It was the game of the tournament so far in Euro 2012, a thrillingly open back-and-forth between the champions of World Cup 2010 (Spain) and World Cup 2006 (Italy). And when the smoke finally cleared, both sides came away with a point in a 1-1 tie that featured fascinating tactics (Spain's six starting midfielders; Italy's three-man back line), aggravating misses (Fernando Torres' miscues; Mario Balotelli's Leon Lett impression) and first-rate goalkeeping by two of the world's best, Iker Casillas and Gigi Buffon.
Spain's Cesc Fàbregas told me afterward how important it was to get the equalizer quickly after Antonio Di Natale's 61st-minute goal, and it only took three minutes for Fàbregas to dart into the box and poke a seeing-eye David Silva pass into the Italian net. The goal provided some long-awaited validation that the surprising Spanish strategy of not starting a traditional center-forward could bear fruit as long as there was enough speed and dynamism in Vicente del Bosque's front line.

Even with Croatia's victory over Ireland in the other group game, both Spain and Italy should be well-situated to get out of the group. I'm just glad that these two teams delivered an entertaining game after the dreary 0-0 affair in the Euro 2008 quarterfinals that Spain won on penalties.

In fact, you could say Spain-Italy was a perfect ending to a weekend that reminds you how much soccer matters in the U.S. these days.

Here's my running diary of the events:

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