Spain vs. Italy: Euro 2012 Final Preview and Prediction

Will Tidey@willtideySenior Manager, GlobalJune 30, 2012

GDANSK, POLAND - JUNE 10:   Mario Balotelli of Italy and Sergio Busquets of Spain compete for the ball during the UEFA EURO 2012 group C match between Spain and Italy at The Municipal Stadium on June 10, 2012 in Gdansk, Poland.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Euro 2012 has reached its crescendo. Spain and Italy are the last teams standing, and on Sunday they will come together in a clash of footballing cultures that will have a global audience in the hundreds of millions hanging on their every pass.

Spain are the defending European champions and reigning World Cup winners. Vicente del Bosque's revered pass masters can make history by winning a third successive major title in Kiev, Ukraine, and will be favorites to make it happen.

But Cesare Prandelli's Italy have already done for England and Germany in the knockout stages of Euro 2012, and inspired by midfielder Andrea Pirlo—arguably the player of the tournament so far—deservedly earned a shot to knock Spain off their throne.


Routes to the Final

Spain and Italy both came through Group C. The two teams drew 1-1 in their opening game of Euro 2012, with Antonio Di Natale's opener for the Italians—set up by an inspired play from Pirlo—cancelled out by an equalizer from Cesc Fabregas.

The Spanish enjoyed a 4-0 win against a weak Republic of Ireland side in the second round of group games. Fernando Torres helped himself to a brace, with the other goals coming from David Silva and Fabregas. Meanwhile, Italy were held 1-1 by Croatia after going ahead through a curling free kick from Pirlo.

GDANSK, POLAND - JUNE 14: Fernando Torres of Spain scores their first goal during the UEFA EURO 2012 group C match between Spain and Ireland at The Municipal Stadium on June 14, 2012 in Gdansk, Poland. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

It was all to play for in the final round of group matches. Spain's nerve was tested by Croatia, but eventually they prevailed thanks to a late winner from substitute Jesus Navas and won the group. Italy came through in the second spot thanks to a 2-0 win against Ireland, with goals from Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli.

WARSAW, POLAND - JUNE 28:  Mario Balotelli (L) of Italy jumps next to Holger Badstuber of Germany to score the opening goal during the UEFA EURO 2012 semi final match between Germany and Italy at National Stadium on June 28, 2012 in Warsaw, Poland.  (Phot
Alex Grimm/Getty Images

Despite outplaying England and creating a host of chances, Italy failed to score and needed penalties to see them off in the quarterfinals. Spain were relatively untroubled in a 2-0 win against France—with Xabi Alonso scoring both goals, the second from the penalty spot.

In the semifinals, Spain triumphed in a penalty shootout against Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal after a 0-0 draw. Italy beat much-fancied Germany 2-1, with an inspired Balotelli scoring both goals to send his team through to the final.


What to Expect

GDANSK, POLAND - JUNE 10:  Andrea Pirlo of Italy goes past Sergio Busquets of Spain during the UEFA EURO 2012 group C match between Spain and Italy at The Municipal Stadium on June 10, 2012 in Gdansk, Poland.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Spain's game is all about possession and fluid movement. With imperious Barcelona duo Andres Iniesta and Xavi at their hub, the Spanish have built a dynasty of success on their tiki-taka passing style. The approach calls on all 10 outfield players to keep the ball moving until spaces appear in the final third. When they do, Spain go for the kill.

Italy's game plan relies heavily on Pirlo, who operates as a deep-lying playmaker and performs a quarterback-style role the Italians call "regista." The Italians are hard to break down, with Daniele De Rossi tasked with shielding their back four, and very dangerous on the counterattack. We can expect Balotelli and Cassano to start up front in the final.


Possible Starting Lineups

SPAIN: Casillas, Arbeloa, Pique, Ramos, Alba, Busquets, Alonso, Xavi, Iniesta, Silva, Fabregas

ITALY: Buffon, Chiellini, Balzaretti, Barzagli, Bonucci, Marchisio, De Rossi, Pirlo, Montolivo, Balotelli, Cassano


Head-to-Head Record

Spain and Italy have played 26 competitive matches in total (as per FIFA), with eight wins for Italy, seven for Spain and 11 draws.


 Recent Major Tournament Meetings

- Spain 1-1 Italy, Euro 2012 Group C

- Spain 0-0 Italy (Spain won on pens), Euro 2008 quarterfinal

- Italy 2-1 Spain, World Cup 1994 quarterfinal



Everything points to the final being extremely tight. Both sides are well organized defensively and unlikely to concede much space in midfield—where I expect the match to be decided.

In a game of small margins, I'm picking Italy to cause an upset. Spain haven't been at their best at Euro 2012, and based on Italy's performance against Germany I think they come into the game with the greater momentum.

Unsurprisingly, I think Pirlo will be key to their success. Spain are unlikely to assign a man to mark him, and that will leave the 33-year-old with time and space to plot their downfall. If Italy can catch Spain on the break, they have a strike pair in Balotelli and Cassano who can punish them.

I see Italy winning it 1-0.


Where to Follow It

The Euro 2012 final will be live on ESPN in the U.S., with kickoff set for 2:45 p.m. Eastern on Sunday. We'll be providing a live blog to accompany their coverage and the usual array of preview and reaction comment.


Pre-Match Reading

- Lead blogger MIke Cummings makes his predictions

- Dan Levy on the importance to Italy of Super Mario

- Tony Mabert says the neutrals should be cheering Italy

- Karl Matchett highlights the key battles to watch

- I break down the midfield clash of the pass masters that awaits


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