This is the shape Carlos Alberto Parreira envisaged when he spoke at a conference in Rio de Janeiro in 2003 of the formation of the future being 4-6-0.
What he foresaw was a team playing with four defenders and then six highly technical, almost interchangeable midfielders who could play with great fluidity and change the angle of attack almost at will. The danger, as Spain discovered in a friendly against England last November, when it set up with David Villa on the left, David Silva in the middle and Iniesta on the right, is that without a focal point a team can lack cutting edge. The intermovement of the midfield has to be properly directed or a team can simply end up holding possession in front of an obdurate opponent with nothing to pierce the defensive line.
That was the fate Spain suffered. Occasionally there were breakthroughs -- Silva cutting in from the right and seeing his shot saved after 11 minutes, Iniesta running on to a Fabregas through-ball and having his shot just tipped wide by Gianlugi Buffon -- but for too much of the game it lacked vertical penetration. When the equalizing goal came it was significant, when Fabregas at last manufactured room to run onto a through-ball; precisely the sort of pass into the path of a run it had previously lacked.
The introduction of Fernando Torres, a striker at last, for Fabregas with 16 minutes remaining gave Spain a much more direct threat and he may have punished a sloppy offside line on three occasions after coming on. Whether that was another to persuade Del Bosque away from his tactical vanguardism remains to be seen.
Even in Series A, teams that played with width -- Napoli and Udinese with their variants of 3-4-3, even Cesean with their 4-3-3 -- overperformed and that led last season to a more general shift. The Italian mindset remains to pack the middle, though, which militates against wingers; accordingly most preferred to play with a back three and wingbacks.
So in that sense, Prandelli's decision to move to a back three made sense: Christian Maggio and Emanuele Giaccherini, the wingbacks, could trouble Jordi Alba and Alvaro Arbeloa, the Spanish fullbacks, while Italy still had eight men in central areas. What was odd was the use of a midfielder, Daniele De Rossi, as the libero. Still, he was tenacious and, given the quality of Italy's first line of defence, the central midfield three of Andrea Pirlo, Thiago Motta and Claudio Marchisio, his pure defensive qualities were rarely tested -- until Torres came on. Once he had, De Rossi looked every inch a midfielder playing at the back struggling with the Chelsea forward's pace and movement.
And his reputation doesn't help. When Casillas fumbled an Antonio Cassano shot 11 minutes before halftime and Balotelli ran onto it, he and Gerard Pique tangled. If anything the foul was by the Spaniard, but the referee Viktor Kassai of Hungary gave a free kick to Spain and warned Balotelli; sure enough, an enraged Balotelli was then fractionally late with a challenge on Sergio Busquets a couple of minutes later, and the Barca midfielder made the most of it and Balotelli was booked. Was it fair? Probably not, but if Balotelli calmed down and let his ability shine through the attitude, he might find more decisions like that going his way.