Italy vs Spain II: The Prized Possesion

June 30, 2012 in Euro 2012, International

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Italy and Spain find themselves battling it out for victory for the second time in just three weeks after they had their first, original stalemate in Gdansk. This time, however, it’s for the only major trophy of European international football, not just the three points.

Let’s cast our minds back to this opening Group C game. The reigning champions fell behind after the veteran Antonio Di Natale latched onto a typical Andrea Pirlo through ball, who produced a sublime side-footed shot to force the Spanish into a moment of disarray. Despite this unexpected lead, it didn’t take long for Spain’s sixth midfielder, Cesc Fabregas, to produce the equaliser we all expected. The 1-1 result ended Spain’s run of 14 successive victories in competitive matches, dating back to their defeat by Switzerland in the opening match of the 2010 World Cup. This game also further reinforced the evidence that joint tournament favourites, Spain, can be unlocked and that they can be beaten. Not only because Italy took the lead, but because it displayed Del Bosque’s lack of confidence in Fernando Torres and that he wasn’t 100% sure on his starting eleven, choosing not to play a striker.

The only criticism made of the reigning World Cup and European Championship holders was they lack a final product, a goal. This was evident in this game. They attempted 780 passes and created only one goal, with 54% percent of these passes going sideways, compared to 45% of Italy’s 426 passes. Despite this unconvincing performance from the Spanish, they have gone on to beat Croatia, France, Ireland and Portugal to reach this stage, and are worthy finalists. The Italians have had an equally tough time, fighting off Croatia and Ireland, as well as England and Germany, to the reach another tournament final.

Italy entered this tournament with little hope, with yet another club match-fixing scandal hanging over the nation, dampening the mood and downsizing expectations. Even the manager, Cesare Prandelli, said before the tournament had started, “I’m really curious to see whether or not we have a good side.” Is anyone else getting feeling of deja vu here? Just six years ago, the Italians had the infamous ‘Calciopali’ match-fixing scandal blanketing the nation, once again lowering expectations. But the Italians went on to the win the tournament, arriving home in Italy with the trophy. This could be happening again this Sunday, and after knocking out the much-favoured Germany in their semi final, it wouldn’t be at all surprising.

So, the two most recent World Cup winners face off in the decisive final of the 2012 European Championships. Prandelli’s men have exceeded expectations while Del Bosque’s met theirs. Will Mario mastermind another Italian victory or will Xavi bring home the third international trophy for Spain in six years? Sunday awaits us.

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Player Battles 

Mario Balotelli vs Gerard Pique

Super Mario, the neutral’s favourite. Supplying goals, red cards and controversy, what more could you really want when watching a football game that doesn’t involve your side? His brace on Thursday against the Germans proved just what he can do when it really matters. Flying high with confidence, with just one more goal needed to push him to the top of Euro goal scoring pile, he’ll be full of motivation and energy. However, he’ll have his toughest test yet against the formidable four of the Spanish defence. The Spanish have only conceded one goal this tournament, with Iker Casillas breaking clean sheet records by the minute. As you fantasy football fans would know as well, Gerard Pique has picked up a mountain of points and has virtually forgotten what it’s like to lose with his club and his country. Can Mario Balotelli shatter Spanish hearts and halt them from gaining their third consecutive trophy? It will be down to Gerard Pique to stop him.

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Andrea Pirlo vs Xavi

Andrea Pirlo has been the player of tournament by far. No other player has dictated each and every game like he has. He always has time on the ball and has the eye for the killer pass to split open any defence, much like Xavi. He’s just come off the back of an amazing season for Serie A winners Juventus, going through an entire league campaign without losing once. Xavi has equally been an integral part of Barcelona’s midfield for a long time now as well, with some people describing him as the third best player in the world, after Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Whoever has the better game will most likely have a massive influence on the final match result. Could this be the last international tournament for both of these players? Both have won the World Cup, and if it is the last chance, both will want to leave the international stage on a high.

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Previous match facts

Spain beat the Azzurri in a penalty shootout after a 0-0 draw at the quarterfinal stage during Euro 2008.

Spain have a record of 8 wins, 12 draws and 10 defeats versus Italy, with seven of those victories coming in friendly matches.

Italy last faced Spain in a friendly in August 2011, winning 2-1 with goals from Riccardo Montolivo and Alberto Aquilani.

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Betting odds

Italy to win 11/4

Decent odds for a side who made the other tournament favourites, Germany, look so poor in their last game. The 2006 World Cup winners have proven they can produce the goods when it matters against the top sides, they have nothing to lose.

Spain to win 11/10

Despite the worryingly poor performance against Portugal in their recent semi final, a sign of a top team is to win when playing badly. Can they beat the Italians and retain their European crown this coming Sunday?

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