Spain vs. Italy: Players Who Must Step Up for Azzurri in 2013 Confederations Cup

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistJune 26, 2013

RECIFE, BRAZIL - JUNE 18:  Daniele De Rossi of Italy speaks to the media prior to the Italian Press Conference on June 18, 2013 in Recife, Brazil.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

It's going to take a mammoth effort from Italy to finally get one up on Spain at the 2013 Confederations Cup.

The two meet in what should be a great semifinal. Whoever wins will face off with host Brazil in the final.

The last year or so has been nothing but Spanish dominance over their European counterpart. La Roja beat Italy 4-0 in the 2012 European Championship Final after drawing 1-1 in the group stage. Then the Spain Under-21 team knocked off the Italy U-21 team 4-2 in the final of the 2013 European U-21 Championship.

Although they've played second fiddle to Spain, Italy are one of the best sides in the world. Playing at their peak, the Azzurri have enough to get the better of Spain.

If that's going to happen, though, there are a lot of things that have to go right. Getting strong performances from these three players will be a good start.


Alberto Gilardino

Mario Balotelli is going to be out for the rest of the Confederations Cup. The AFP's Tom Williams reported Alberto Gilardino will take Balotelli's spot in the starting XI.

Losing "Super Mario" is a major issue for Italy. He's played very well in this tournament and is generally very well-behaved under Cesare Prandelli. Generally, you don't see the malcontent who often showed up for Manchester City.

The Azzurri are going to need to score in order to win, and it's going to be hard to do that without their best striker.

Of course, Gilardino is no scrub. He scored 13 goals in Serie A last season. Gilardino has never been a mainstay on the national team, but he's picked up his fair share of caps.

Gilardino needs to be a dependable target man. Italy has a very good midfield, but that doesn't matter if there isn't a capable striker who can finish off attacking moves.


Daniele De Rossi

Daniele De Rossi was absent in Italy's loss against Brazil. Now he's back, and the timing couldn't be better for Italy.

Some are wondering whether or not Prandelli will opt for a three-man back line against Spain. It's how the Azzurri lined up against La Roja in the Euro 2012 group stage, and it was De Rossi who was such a colossus at the back.

Normally a defensive midfielder, De Rossi played centre-back and did it very well. If Prandelli does in fact go to a three-man defense, De Rossi will be a key cog in that formation.

Even if Italy line up with four at the back, De Rossi will have to act as the anchor in the midfield. It will be up to him more so than Andrea Pirlo to disrupt the Spanish attack before it can get too close to the goal.


Gianluigi Buffon

Gianluigi Buffon is one of the best goalkeepers in the world, but he's having a howler of a Confederations Cup. Since he's 35 years old, some might wonder if he's past it and should retire.

That kind of talk is crazy, but there's no denying that he needs to up his performance level.

Italy have given up a total of eight goals in three matches. That's not a great record. While not all of that is Buffon's fault, he deserves his share of the blame.

Against Spain, Buffon is not going to get away with the kind of mistakes he's made in this tournament. Spain are too lethal in the attack and will get too many chances on goal. If Buffon slips up, La Roja will pounce.

A goalkeeper can't single-handedly win a match for his team. A couple of key saves from Buffon, though, can give Italy the belief that they can upset Spain.