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|Euro 2012 Special: Badstuber & Hummels vs Barzagli & Bonucci - Which ship won't leak goals?|
SoccerAnchor's Rick D'Andrea says the defence could be the key to getting a spot in the Final of Euro 2012 - even more important than scoring the goals...
It is widely believed that in order to win a European Championship, your defence must be beyond rock-solid. The centre-back pairing must work well together, instinctively knowing what your partner will be doing whilst you attend to other tasks, and the fullbacks need to be full of running, both in the attacking and the defensive sense.
Both Germany and Italy fit the above description to a tee. Joachim Loew has more-or-less opted to use the same back four in right-back Jerome Boateng, left-back Philipp Lahm and central defenders Mats Hummels and Holger Badstuber. The only other person that has been employed from the first minute was Lars Bender on Matchday 3, but that was due to Boateng being suspended for the clash after picking up two yellow cards against Portugal and The Netherlands.
Cesare Prandelli has mixed things up somewhat. Having used a 3-5-2 formation against Spain on Matchday 1, it meant that Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini were joined my midfielder Daniele De Rossi in order to stop La Furia Roja. And with two wing-backs in Christian Maggio and Emmanuele Giaccherini accompanying the trio, it worked to some effect, as the Azzurri snatched a point from the reigning champions.
SInce then, a 4-3-1-2 has been adopted, with Ignazio Abate and Federico Balzaretti coming into the picture, De Rossi dropping back into his accustomed midfield role and Andrea Barzagli recovering from a pre-tournament injury.
THE LEFT BACKS: PHILIPP LAHM VERSUS FEDERICO BALZARETTI
Captain Philipp Lahm has gone about his business very quietly this time around. Normally, the Bayern Munich man has had the incredibly tough roles to take on, ut it has been fellow full-back Jerome Boateng that has stolen the headlines.
Lahm has made it his mission to patrol the left flank - and quite successfully so far. And with the aid of former Bayern team-mate Lukas Podolski dropping back to help, the armband wearer has kept trouble away.
His naus and his ability to be able to play on both sides of the pitch is extremely handy for Die Mannschaft, especially as it allows extra flexibility if the opposite side of the pitch is being bombarded. Not to mention when the left-back gets up the pitch, and the deep crosses he is known for putting in, or the shooting from just outside the area...
Balzaretti was brought in by Prandelli on Matchday 2 to replace left-winger Ennamuele Giaccherini, who was utilised as a wing-back for the Spain match. The Palermo man - who is strongly linked with a summer move to Inter Milan - showed La Nazionale why he can stake a claim for being Italy's number one in the position, ahead of Domenico Criscito. His guile and ability to run at opposition players made him a threat, as well as his vision.
He is a clear first-choice in Poland/Ukraine when Prandelli opts to play four-man defence, but may be surplus if the Southern European nation reverts to a three-man structure.
THE RIGHT-BACKS: JEROME BOATENG VERSUS IGNAZIO ABATE
Jerome Boateng was receiving worldwide acclaim after his very impressive performance against Portugal on the opening matchday. Having been given arguably the toughest role in world football - keeping superstar Cristiano Ronaldo very quiet - the right-back was being touted as a person that could single-handedly be the reason why Die Mannschaft win Euro 2012.
Yes, and extremely big statement to make, but considering that he had just proven he would not be seen as the weakest link the back four, a fair one to make. His last-gasp stretching of the left boot ensured the Portuguese star remained goalless on the night.
Since that match, Boateng has had a one-match suspension - against Denmark on Matchday 3 - but returned for the Greece match last week. His hand was the culprit of the Ethniki winning a penalty late in the match, as it was handball in the box.
The Bayern man's ability to man-mark and track back are seen as his strongest qualities, as well as his ability to be accountable for the opposition player he takes on.
Abate falls into the same category as Balzaretti - not used on Matchday 1, but preferred when a four-man defence is employed.
Abate's speed has to be his strongest suit, and if he is able to put in a dangerous cross, Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano definitely can finish them off. But his weakness can hurt both AC Milan - the club he plays for - and his nation: his inability to track back fast enough when pushing up the said ground.
Without Christian Maggio available for this match due to suspension, Abate has everything to prove.
THE CENTRE-BACKS: MATS HUMMELS & HOLGER BADSTUBER VERSUS GIORGIO CHIELLINI, ANDREA BARZAGLI & LEONARDO BONUCCI
Hummels and Badstuber have illustrated why they are Germany's preferred centre-backs, ahead of Per Mertesacker.
Both young and experienced beyond their years, only conceding four goals the entire tournament will keep them in good stead. One thing that could be worrying the duo is that they conceded twice to Greece. But one was from the penalty spot, whilst the other was a counter-attacking move from the right, which caught all by surprise.
Having kept the likes of Robin van Persie, Helder Postiga and Nicklas Bendtner at bay in the Group Stage, and limiting Giorgios Samaras to one goal last Friday, the three-time champions will be counting on the rock-solid contributions from these two to get them into the Final.
Cesare Prandelli's predicament has been much tougher, but his hand has been somewhat forced by injuries at the back. With Barzagli absent for the first two matches due to a calf strain, and Chiellini missing against England due to a knock on the knee, the coach has had at least two fit stoppers. Now, with all three expected to be available for selection, the headaches will occur.
Chiellini-Barzagli is the preferred centre-back combination for La Nazionale, with Bonucci seen to be the third-choice. But how will it work in a three-man formation, especially after Daniele De Rossi's man-of-the-match performance against Spain, when the tactic was used?
All three are Juventus players, so they know how to play alongside one another. Bonucci-Barzagli was the combination Juve coach Antonio Conte opted to use, but that was due to a serious knee injury to Paolo De Ceglie.
Age and experience may come into play, as the Italian centre-backs have played together for a lot longer. Leaking only twice versus four for the Germans also says where the Azzurri's mindset is. Don't concede and score at least once.