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|Euro 2012 Final Preview: Spain - Italy|
After 24 days of goals, assists, yellow and red cards, Spain meet Italy in the EURO 2012 Final. Having met in the opening Group C match three weeks ago and ending in a 1-1 draw, we will have a winner between La Furia Roja and La Nazionale. Who will hold up the Henri Delaunay trophy?....
Date: Sunday, 1 July 2012
Venue: Olympic Stadium, Kiev, Ukraine
Local Kick-off time: 21:45
Spain has achieved its first objective the team set out to do prior to the tournament commencing: making the Final.
Despite not playing the same style of football that led La Furia Roja to their 2008 win, Vicente del Bosque has managed to get his troops doing enough to continuously progress throughout the tournament.
The Iberian nation skimmed through to the final with a 4-2 penalty shoot-out win over Portugal. Despite the Seleccao having created the better chances, it was left up to the back five of goalkeeper Iker Casillas, full-backs Jordi Alba and Alvaro Arbeloa, and centre-backs Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique to stop the goals from flowing. Arbeloa arguably had the toughest role on Tuesday evening - taking on Real Madrid team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo - but the right-back can hold his head high,as he didn't allow the superstar to score.
Alvaro Negredo was the shock starter in the semi-final, as he had not played a single minute up to this stage of the competition. Del Bosque opted not to use the "false nine" - Cesc Fabregas as striker - tactic seen against Italy and Croatia, but the Sevilla player was relatively anonymous for the entire match. Whispers are now floating that the coach may play three strikers to counteract Italy's rock-solid defence.
Having been labelled as playing "boring" football, the exact opposite can be said about opponents Italy.
Full of life and attacking verve, the world witnessed how Mario Balotelli tore Germany apart in the second semi-final on Wednesday evening. Two goals before half-time put the Azzurri ahead, but a late penalty successfully converted by Mesut Oezil - after Federico Balzaretti was adjudged to have handled the ball in the box - gave Die Mannschaft some hope.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli changed formation when these two sides met three weeks ago. Using a 3-5-2 with Daniele De Rossi as a central defender alongside Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, the stoppers managed to contain Spain's high-quality attack for long periods of that match. But the tactician is expected to use a 4-3-1-2, the setup he has since employed, and used to get Italy to Poland/Ukraine.
Prandelli's only headache will be who he chooses in defence, in particular at right-back. Ignazio Abate has full recovered from his injury, Christian Maggio has served his one-match ban and Federico Balzaretti played in place of the duo, and put in a solid shift.
- No team has ever won three major tournaments back-to-back. Spain are attempting to break this record. The closest any nation has come was West Germany. Winning the 1972 edition, the side then went on to claim the 1974 FIFA World Cup, before losing to Czechoslovakia in the 1976 European Championship Final.
- Spain have won their past nine knock-out stage matches without conceding a goal
- Last time Spain won the European Championships prior to 2008 was in 1964. Italy went on to win the next edition of the tournament.
- Spain and Italy have met on 30 other occasions. Italy have won 10 times, compared to Spain's eight, with 12 stalemates in that time. Spain has not registered a win over Italy in competitive football since 1920, if you exclude the 2008 penalty shoot-out win.
- The last time the two sides met outside of the Euro 2012 Finals, the Azzurri claimed a 2-1 friendly win in August 2011.
- Mario Balotelli became the first Italian to score three or more goals at a European Championships for Italy.
PLAYER TO WATCH: DANIELE DE ROSSI
Italy's heart and soul in the midfield is led by De Rossi. The Roma player's bullying tactics and tenacity at the ball has amply contributed to La Nazionale's rise through the tournament and into the Final.
Having played arguably his best ever game against the Spaniards on Matchday 1, the soon-to-be 29-year-old will settle back into his midfield role after being employed as a centre-back in the opening game due to Cesare Prandelli's tactics and injury woes at the time.
De Rossi was the central defender with Chiellini and Bonucci alongside him, but his ability to read midfielders and what they were going to do with the ball aided Italy in getting the draw.
"Il Capitano Futuro" has worked up a very good partnership with Claudio Marchisio, meaning Andrea Pirlo has been able to roam the pitch, orchestrating the play as a regista (deep-lying playmaker).
What De Rossi has lacked this tournament has been a goal. Not overly noted for scoring, the midfielder has popped up from time to time with a cracking effort, generally outside the 18-yard box. He came closest to scoring his left-foot attempt against England swirled and hit the post, completely beating goalkeeper Joe Hart.
He will have one of the toughest jobs in world football on Sunday evening, when he will be required to shut down either Xavi or Iniesta.
PREDICTION: Spain 0-1 Italy