Reigning European and world champions Spain hold no fears for Italy as the two sides prepare to meet in Sunday’s Euro 2012 final in Kiev.
Neither side have lost a match in the tournament so far but it will be the Italians who enter the showpiece in better form.
Cesare Prandelli’s side were excellent in their quarter-final win over England – which was only decided on penalties because of their poor finishing – and they backed it up with a superb 2-1 victory against an in-form Germany.
And although Spain will enter the final as favourites, Prandelli is confident his side can cause problems for their opponents.
“We only have one day to prepare for this game but we will try to find Spain’s weaknesses,” Prandelli said.
“They are the world and European champions and they are an example to everyone. But we have grown and we should not fear them. We have to have the strength to face them with ideas and quality.”
Manchester City forward Mario Balotelli scored a well-taken brace in the win over the Germans, while Andrea Pirlo’s outstanding tournament continued as the veteran put in another marvellous performance in the centre of midfield.
Pirlo’s skill on the ball has perhaps been the highlight of the championships with his passing, movement and eye for a through-ball all pivotal to Italy’s success in Poland and Ukraine.
Spanish defender Sergio Ramos is well-aware of Pirlo’s talent and knows that he needs to be stopped if they are to triumph.
“They are very quick and dangerous on the break and Pirlo is unique,” Ramos said.
“With a single pass he can open you up and leave a man one on one. Pirlo is their reference point. He dominates the game and controls the match. He’s the player that makes the difference.”
Spain enter the final on the back of a penalty shootout success against Portugal, which came after the two sides played out a stalemate in 120 minutes.
Spain and Italy met each other earlier in the group stages of the tournament, with Cesc Fabregas’ equaliser earning the former a 1-1 draw in an exciting match in Gdansk.
Prandelli opted for a 3-5-2 formation against the Spaniards and it paid dividends as Vicente Del Bosque’s side were crowded in midfield and struggled to move the ball forward with their usual crispness.
The match was also notable for Del Bosque’s refusal to play a recognised striker from the start, with Fabregas playing in an unusual ‘false nine’ role, while they also started with the same set-up in a 2-0 quarter-final win against France.
And the issue has plagued Spain all tournament, with Fabregas, Fernando Torres and Alvaro Negredo playing as the central striker in a 4-3-3 formation at some stage of the championships.
Del Bosque’s failure to settle on a line-up has cost Spain the chance to build continuity and as a result they have not been able to play the kind of football that saw them win Euro 2008 and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
While Torres and Fabregas have scored two goals each, the bulk of Spain’s good play in the attacking third has come from midfielders Andres Iniesta and David Silva and the pair will need to be at their best again to cause Italy problems.
Barcelona midfielder Xavi will play a similar role to Pirlo, setting up attacks and acting as the pivot in midfield, and the battle between the pair will be crucial.
The Spanish defence has been resolute all tournament, conceding just once – which was against Italy – while Prandelli’s side have shipped just three goals in five matches.
The match is unlikely to be a shootout and just the one goal might be enough to claim victory.
Spain are attempting to create history, with no country ever having won the European Championship twice in a row.
For Italy, they are looking to win the title for the first time since 1968.
With the amount of quality on the pitch and so much on the line, Sunday’s final is sure to be a special occasion.
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