Euro 2012 Final Preview: Italy bid to depose Spain as European kings

Having steadily risen to the boil in trademark fashion, Italy will seek to exploit chinks in the armour of defending champions Spain when the teams meet in the Euro 2012 final here on Sunday.

Updated: June 29, 2012 19:40 IST
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Kiev: Having steadily risen to the boil in trademark fashion, Italy will seek to exploit chinks in the armour of defending champions Spain when the teams meet in the Euro 2012 final here on Sunday.

After beating strongly fancied Germany 2-1 in Thursday's second semi-final in Warsaw, the Azzurri appear to be hitting form at precisely the right time.

Reigning world and European champions Spain are bidding to become the first team in history to win three consecutive major titles, but they failed to convince in their last-four penalty shoot-out win over Portugal in Donetsk.

Despite dominating possession, as they did in the 2-0 quarter-final success over France, Spain laboured in attack against the Portuguese and have started to face accusations that their 'tiki-taka' style has become sterile.

Italy, in contrast, have confounded low pre-tournament expectations to eliminate first England and then Germany, and now stand on the brink of a second European Championship honour.

Their preparations for the tournament having been clouded by the Calcioscommesse match-fixing affair, Italy could be poised to triumph in the face of adversity once again.

Their World Cup successes in both 1982 and 2006 were prefaced by match-fixing scandals, but coach Cesare Prandelli has cooled talk of omens by insisting that his side will be the underdogs at Kiev's Olympic Stadium.

"The favourites are Spain because they've been working for many years and they dominate every game," said Prandelli, whose side beat Spain 2-1 in a friendly in August last year.

"We'll come up against a brilliant team, who are always able to play their game and have shown that over recent years."

Spain and Italy drew 1-1 in their opening Group C game -- Cesc Fabregas cancelling out Antonio di Natale's opener -- and it will be the fourth time that two teams who have met in their first game resume hostilities in the final.

The last occasion was at Euro 2004, when Greece twice upset hosts Portugal.

Italy successfully stifled Spain three weeks ago in Gdansk, as Prandelli opted for a 3-5-2 formation that afforded his defenders extra room to manoeuvre against Spain's fluid front three.

Fabregas was used as a 'false nine' in that game, but Spain coach Vicente del Bosque appears to have doubts over who is the best player to spearhead his attack.

Fernando Torres played up front in the 4-0 win over Ireland and the 1-0 defeat of Croatia, while Alvaro Negredo started in the 0-0 draw with Portugal but was replaced by Fabregas early in the second half.

The powerful Fernando Llorente, meanwhile, is yet to see action in Poland and Ukraine despite a fine season with Athletic Bilbao.

One striker brimming with confidence is Italy's Mario Balotelli, who came of age in the semi-final against Germany with a confidently taken first-half brace.

The controvery-prone 21-year-old provided one of the images of the tournament by embracing his adoptive mother in the crowd after the final whistle, and he will enter Sunday's game as the tournament's joint-top scorer with three goals.

"I scored two goals in front of my mother and I would like to score four in front of my father in Kiev in the final," said the Ghana-born Manchester City striker.

An engaging tournament requires only a memorable final to confirm its status as a modern classic, but Spain will need to awake from their slumber if they are to overcome a disciplined and committed Italy side.

The champions must also shake the weariness from their legs after 120 minutes of graft against Portugal, although they will benefit from an extra day's rest.

"At the moment, yes, they are tired," said Del Bosque, who is seeking to become the first coach to have won the European Championship, the World Cup and the Champions League.

"They have played all season to their limits. But at the same time, they are used to the wear and tear of a whole season spent playing at the highest level."

As well as pitting together two of the tournament's outstanding midfielders in Spain's Andres Iniesta and Italy's Andrea Pirlo, Sunday game's will also see Spain attempt to become the first country to successfully defend the European title.

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