#360view: Italy influential in Spain’s rise and fall

Andy West 23:11 05/10/2016
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The Azzurri beat Spain 1-0 at Euro 2016.

The attractive World Cup qualifier between Italy and Spain on Thursday night in Turin offers a rapid opportunity for La Roja to gain revenge for their 2-0 defeat at the hands of the Azzurri in this summer’s European Championships.

But that’s only just the start of it.

These two proud footballing nations have been repeated and regular combatants over the last few years, creating quite possibly the most vibrant modern rivalry in European international football.

It hasn’t, however, always been that way. After a World Cup quarter-final meeting in 1934, won 1-0 by Italy after a replay (remember those?), these two Mediterranean nations somehow didn’t meet again in a competitive fixture for nearly half a century, when they drew 0-0 in the 1980 European Championships.

The intensity of their rivalry stepped up several notches in the 1994 World Cup, when Italy won 2-1 in a quarter-final overshadowed by the sight of a young Luis Enrique’s nose streaming with blood after a vicious elbowing from Mauro Tassotti.

But Spain had still never beaten Italy in a competitive fixture (barring the Olympics) until 2008, when a nervy penalty shoot-out victory sent them on the way to the European title.

La Roja’s new-found dominance continued in the final four years later with perhaps their finest ever performance, when Vicente Del Bosque’s men swept to an imperious 4-0 victory and complete their ‘three-peat’ of major titles.

In hindsight, it’s easy to pinpoint that game as the end of Spain’s era of dominance. Just as notably, it was also the end of the road for a hugely influential playing system – the false nine, which had been implemented at Barcelona by Pep Guardiola and replicated by Del Bosque on the international stage, with Cesc Fabregas filling the role occupied by Lionel Messi at club level.

Fabregas started the 2012 final in Kiev as the ‘striker’ alongside Andres Iniesta and David Silva in a forward line which was really an extension of the midfield, allowing Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez and Xabi Alonso to establish a stranglehold over possession which simply suffocated the opposition.

The following season, however, Messi’s success in that role started to diminish, illustrated most brutally when Bayern Munich dumped Barcelona out of the Champions League semi-final with an astonishing 7-0 defeat.

The ‘false nine’ was retreating into the history books and Del Bosque soon abandoned the striker-less formation, but La Roja have still not recovered from their post-Euro 2012 dip.

With the peak of their glory years coming against Italy four years ago, it was appropriate that the depth of their slump was also against the Azzurri this summer, when it finally became clear that Del Bosque’s time in charge had run its course against a vastly superior Italian team.

And it’s equally fitting that tonight new manager Julen Lopetegui will have the chance to firmly assert his new team’s credentials. Spain have lost considerable prestige since that glorious evening in Kiev four years ago. There would be no better opposition against whom to regain it than Italy.

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Greed and arrogance Allardyce’s position untenable

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Sam Allardyce.

In the wake of England’s dismal display at Euro 2016, the consensus as to why the Three Lions had failed so spectacularly in France was due to the players not caring.  A generation of over-paid, over-indulged players who had lost touch with the importance of what it meant to represent your country.

It was an extension of the famous anecdote of Stuart Pearce who, in 2007, asked a young player at Manchester City he’d prefer an England cap or a Ferrari. The answer wasn’t the one Pearce wanted.

Greed and the relentless pursuit of money and luxury had eaten away at the national game and its result was the apparent apathy its elite players showed international football. It’s an idea that, in part, helped secure Sam Allardyce the job as Roy Hodgson’s successor. A back-to-basics, heart-on-the-sleeve, working class figure who can restore pride and rediscover this lost concept of passion.

Except as we’ve learned in the last 24 hours, greed is a sin that isn’t just restricted to players.

Within a few weeks of accepting a £3million contract as the world’s best-paid international manager, Allardyce was filmed using his newly-acquired status negotiating shady deals with mystery Far East investors for £400,000.

With public confidence in the England national team at an all-time low due to a series of successive tournament failures and a general feeling of disenfranchisement with multi-millionaire players detached from reality, the absolute last thing the FA needed was their bastion of traditional values becoming another standard-bearer of the evils of the game.

Allardyce is ​also not the only one who’s been humiliated here.

The judgement of the three men who ultimately selected him – FA chief executive Martin Glenn, technical director Dan Ashworth and vice chairman David Gill – has been questioned and whether or not they performed adequate due diligence on their candidate.

It’s all well and good embarrassing yourself, but when your paymasters become collateral damage, then you’re in real trouble.

The 61-year-old has either ignored or totally failed to understand the idea of why being England manager isn’t the same as taking charge of Sunderland, West Ham or Bolton. You’re public property​ and ​the foremost representative​ of your country’s football history, traditions and ideas.

The FA, the world’s oldest football association, is understandably proud of its position and reputation. It is, to all intents and purposes, a moral arbiter of the game.​ ​Pride, integrity, excellence and collaboration are the four pillars that form the FA’s own England DNA, as detailed on their website. On each concept, Allardyce has fallen short.

But its influence stretches far beyond the boundaries of England. It has been one of the few associations to readily speak up against FIFA, UEFA and the various controversies emanating from those institutions over the years.​ ​How would it look, when you’ve pointed all those fingers, made all that noise, to have so much ethical doubt surrounding your highest-paid employee?

You can debate the severity of the allegations levelled against Allardyce and whether or not they justify him having to leave his job (although the belief is there’s more still to emerge). But it was his arrogance and greed which put himself in this position and, overall, a total disregard for the virtues the FA are trying to instil in the English game.

​He, and he alone, had made his position ​untenable.

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FIFA Rankings - Top 10 Asian teams

Sport360 staff 14:14 15/09/2016
Asia's highest ranked sides

The United Arab Emirates national team are ranked 66th in the world as per the latest FIFA rankings released on Thursday.

Following their historic 2-1 win away to Japan and a narrow defeat at home to Australia in the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers, UAE have moved up by eight places having featured in 74th place in August.

Iran leads the way among the Asian teams, moving up two places to the 37th spot.

Argentina remained the highest ranked nation in the world and Belgium maintain their second place as well while Brazil’s Olympics triumph has seen them soar five places to number four.

Spain on the other hand have dropped out of the top ten for the first time since 2006, currently featuring in 11th place.

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