Group C gets underway on Sunday as two footballing giants do battle in Poland with the dangerous Spaniards taking on the enigmatic Italians. As is to be expected with these nations, both Spain and Italy breezed through qualification, and as always have high hopes entering this tournament.
Simply put, Spain can be the greatest team in this tournament. They enter ranked first in FIFA’s world rankings and are the reigning Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 champions. That said, no country has ever produced three major trophies in a row, a feat Spain must achieve if their lofty expectations are to be realized. Spain is certainly the class of this competition, but questions are abound as to their motivation, and fatigue. Their line-up is littered with world-class players, many of whom have played an exorbitant amount of games in the past four seasons. With an ageing line-up and devoid of both David Villa and Carlos Puyol, Spain’s hopes for the trifecta won’t come easy.
The Italians meanwhile certainly possess the potential to be a dangerous side, but always seem to be plagued by off-field controversies. This tournament is once again no different, as Italian football has come under intense scrutiny involving yet another round of severe match-fixing allegations. Already, the side has lost players from their training camp with others having to endure implications of their involvement. Though this is a huge distraction, Italy does have a history of succeeding in the face of adversity. Their last major victory at the World Cup in 2006 also came amid a series of match-fixing allegations, and Italy will look to duplicate those results in this tournament. They went undefeated in qualifying, but have looked shaky in their pre-tournament matches as injuries have taken their toll. Starting their tournament against Spain certainly isn’t ideal, but a favourable result could build momentum for yet another shocker from the Azzurri.
Spain vs Italy Betting Odds:
Spain (-120) / Draw (+255) / Italy (+420)
Over 2 (-115) / Under 2 (-105)
Match Analysis & Pick:
Though the majority of Spanish players have endured long seasons with many matches played, this Italian side enters amid controversy, playing short-handed, all while experimenting with a new formation. It isn’t exactly ideal preparation prior to facing the world’s greatest side. The Italians were embarrassed in their sole pre-tournament fixture, losing 3-0 to Russia and showed that injuries have ravaged what was once a much-heralded defense.
With Domenico Criscito absent from the side due to the match-fixing scandal, and Andrea Barzagli out against Spain to injury, manager Cesare Prandelli has no choice but to insert their key central midfielder, Daniele De Rossi, into the centre of defense for the Azzurri. With this switch, look for the Italians to play very conservatively and hope for the draw against a creative crop of Spanish attackers.
With De Rossi shifting to defense, it means the Italians will likely employ a 3-5-2 formation, something incredibly risky against Spain. De Rossi showed throughout his season at Roma that while he is capable of playing in the middle of defense, it’s clearly not his preferred position. Employing these tactics against the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, and David Silva spells disaster for the Azzurri.
As is customary with matches involving Spain, look for them to dictate the tempo and possession for the majority of this match. Italy will be praying for the draw, and with their enigmatic striking options in Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano, their goal-scoring prowess is questionable at best. If you were to point out a weakness with this strong Spanish side, it would be their back-four, but don’t expect Italy to generate many threatening chances and test Spain’s defense.
Spain will pressure the Italians for the full 90 minutes, utilizing their harmonious midfield to wreak havoc on a Italian squad in disarray. They play a fluid 4-2-3-1 formation, allowing them to control the ball and dominate the middle of the pitch. With Italy devoid of De Rossi’s presence there, La Roja will have no trouble generating chances and feeding the speedy Fernando Torres up front.
With the Italians entering this tournament in terrible form, winning just 2 of their past 9 matches, netting a result against a very formidable Spanish opponent would be a surprising outcome. Spain should toy with the Italians, netting a convincing victory in what should a low-scoring, defensive-minded affair.
PICK: Spain to win (-120)