After three weeks of top quality soccer action from Europe’s best teams, it all comes down to an epic clash between two proud footballing nations. Though both Italy and Spain hailed from Group C and have met earlier in the tournament, the two sides took vastly different routes to get to this stage.
When these teams met in the group stage, despite a perceived Spanish superiority, it was the Italians who dictated the play and looked the more positive of the two sides. Antonio di Natale struck first on a vulnerable Spanish side, and if it weren’t for a quick equaliser, Italy easily could have emerged victorious in that match.
Since then both sides have yet to endure a loss, though Italy has looked the more convincing in doing so. They toyed with England for a full 90 minutes, before putting them away convincingly on penalties. Then they followed that up by disposing of the Germans with ease. Enigmatic striker Mario Balotelli is in top-form at the moment, and represents a huge threat to a susceptible Spanish back-four. Though the Azzurri entered Euro 2012 amid waves of questions and controversy, coach Cesare Prandelli has done an admirable job of getting his squad to maintain focused on victory. Nobody gave the Italians much of a shot prior to competition, but here they are with just one match to play heading into the finals looking like the team of the highest quality.
Spain, like the Italians have also netted favourable results up to this stage. However, unlike their adversaries in the finals, La Roja have endured their fair share of struggles and moments of vulnerability. Against Croatia in their final group stage fixture, the Spaniards were inches away from bowing out of the tournament in the final minutes. And though they rebounded well against a punchless French side, the Spanish were badly outplayed at times against Portugal, just narrowly advancing on penalties. The Spaniards possess all the talent in the world, but they’ve been susceptible at the back, and have yet to resemble the side that captured the trophy at the 2010 World Cup. They may not need top form, but against a red-hot Italian side, the Spaniards can’t afford any more lacklustre play.
Spain vs Italy Betting Odds:
Spain (+120) / Draw (+220) / Italy (+290)
Over 2 (+115) / Under 2 (-135)
Match Analysis & Pick:
Though the Italians were once regarded as a staunch defensive footballing country, their tactics have undergone quite the overhaul under Cesare Prandelli. Throughout the competition, the Italians have demonstrated impressive offensive work, specifically in their past two matches against England and Germany. Though they couldn’t manage a goal against England, the Italians possessed the ball in dominant fashion, while virtually toying with their opponents of late. They have been led by big striker Mario Balotelli, who has looked unstoppable recently. The stout Germans had no answer for the Machester City target-man, and against a makeshift Spanish back-line, Balotelli will undoubtedly create trouble for the likes of Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique. Spain lost Carlos Puyol on their defense just prior to competition, and without him the group has looked lost and scattered against higher-quality opponents. Expect Prandelli to exploit this with long-balls from the midfield and added offense from the flanks, providing Balotelli multiple chances to bring his country European glory.
Spain are often regarded as the world’s greatest side and rightfully so. They’re the reigning European champions from 2008, and the defending World Cup victors from 2010, and to be in this position yet again is simply amazing. However, their march to the finals in this tournament has been a tad misleading. They’ve capitalized on a plethora of lucky breaks and most observers would suggest they’re lacking a necessary killer instinct. Spain’s ball movement has been superb, but too often it’s led to very little. Playing around with the ball too much and employing those tactics could be a recipe for disaster against Italy. Andrea Pirlo has been the tournament’s best player in the Italian midfield and his passing ability could shred the Spanish defense if their ball movement becomes too redundant. Pirlo has maintained a passing rate of 87% and is the maestro of the Italian midfield, creating plays and facilitating virtually every Italian counter-attack. Though Spain will have the ball the majority of this match, the Italians are immensely difficult to break down, and Spanish turnovers will prove costly against the likes of Pirlo and Balotelli.
Like every match involving Spain, look for them to hold on to the ball as much as possible. That’s their customary low-risk, high-control style. However, Spain have severely lacked finishing ability of late, and they’ll be hard-pressed to find the back of the net against the Italians. In fact, half of their Euro 2012 goals came in a half against a lowly Ireland side. Spain has struggled to muster real chances against formidable opponents like the Italians, and expect that trend to continue come Sunday.
Look for this to be a tight match for both sides, with minimal room for offense. Spain will be extra cautious in their approach, especially in watching the creativity of the Italians. Both goalies are two of the world’s best in Gianluigi Buffon and Iker Casillas, so don’t expect any blunders from each keeper. Though Spain will have more possession than Italy, look for the Italians to be more positive and dangerous with their offence. The pair up front with Cassano and Balotelli is the total package of speed, strength, and sheer ability, and Spain will be tested more than ever before in this match. This, combined with Spain`s unwillingness to play with an out and out striker will play into the hands of Italy, allowing them to dominate key battles on the pitch.
The Italians entered Euro 2012 amid another match-fixing scandal, but will leave with another European trophy to their name. They`ve proved throughout this tournament their resiliency and devotion to Prandelli`s tactics, while entering this match as simply the better side. Though there exists a real chance of extra time and perhaps penalties, the Italians will ultimately lift the trophy. If not within the first ninety, this Italian team is a hungry group looking to restore faith to their disgraced national game and will be crowned victors Sunday in Poland.