Everton manager David Moyes has hailed the impact of the more experienced players at Euro 2012, and is relishing the midfield battle that is set to take place between Italy and Spain in Sunday’s final.
Andrea Pirlo has been widely tipped to claim the player of the tournament prize following a string of dominant displays for the Azzurri, and Moyes believes he has been key to his national team's revival.
The 49-year-old boss also highlighted the talents of Spain midfielder Xavi as central to “one of the best teams” in history, with the 32-year-old again instrumental for his country in Poland and Ukraine.
“Pirlo, at 33, is an example of Italy’s tradition for getting great performances from older players,” Moyes wrote in his column for The Times.
“You think of Paolo Maldini, Dino Zoff and Fabio Cannavaro, and how they kept going. Pirlo will be Italy’s key man [during the final].
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“Whatever happens in the final, Spain are one of the best teams we’ve ever seen, featuring some of the best players we’ve ever seen, and we should savour them.
“Xavi and Andres Iniesta will go down in history. They are destined to be what Johan Cruyff was to Netherlands, Franz Beckenbauer to Germany. They are pioneers who will be forever associated with a certain way of playing.
“When you think that Spain’s main players have been Iniesta, Xavi, Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and the magnificent Xabi Alonso, and that Pirlo, Gigi Buffon and Daniele De Rossi are central to Italy, you realise something about this tournament. While 2010 was about young players breaking through, Euro 2012 has been a tournament all about the experienced players.”
The finalists met each other in the opening round of the group stage, and Moyes believes Italy’s valiant performance in the 1-1 draw was the early sign of their rapid improvements during the tournament, but acknowledged that the “magnificent” Spain will create a “finely balanced” game.
“Now it’s clear that what we were seeing was Italy’s national team continuing a revival of the country’s football, demonstrated by Napoli in the Champions League and Juventus in Serie A last season,” he continued.
“Spain still look as if they have extra gears to find - although the idea they haven’t played well at Euro 2012 is daft given Antonio Di Natale’s strike in the 1-1 draw is the only time they’ve conceded a goal.
"Before the tournament I wondered, after all the games Spain’s stars had played in the past couple of years, whether tiredness might be a factor. They haven’t suffered yet.
“Can they push once more and make history by winning three tournaments in a row? Spain are magnificent - their bench would have had a good chance of reaching the final. But beware Italy. I expect tonight, just like the sides’ opening match, to be finely balanced.”