Euro 2012: Spain vs Italy - The key battles
Al look at the individual battles that will help determine the outcome of Sunday's Euro 2012 final between Italy and defending champions Spain at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev.
Al look at the individual battles that will help determine the outcome of Sunday's Euro 2012 final between Italy and defending champions Spain at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev. (All AFP Photos)
<b>Iker Casillas (ESP) v Gianluigi Buffon (ITA)</b><br><br> Not only are the two players leaders of their respective sides but also widely regarded as the two best goalkeepers currently. Both Casillas and Buffon have pulled off stunning saves in the tournament to keep their teams alive.<br><br> Casillas has conceded only one goal so far at Euro 2012 but that came in the opening game against Italy. He already has the Euro 2008 and 2010 World Cup to his credit as the Spanish captain while Buffon is still searching for his team's first title since he took over the reins from Fabio Cannavaro.
<b>Andres Iniesta (ESP) v Christian Maggio (ITA)</b><br><br> Suspended for the semi-final victory over Germany, Italy right-back Maggio will compete with Ignazio Abate for the right to start in Sunday's final, when he is likely to come up against the in-form Iniesta. Whether deployed as a wing-back in a 3-5-2 system or as a more conventional right-back in a back four, Maggio's chief defensive responsibility will be to keep tabs on the roaming Barcelona midfielder.<br><br> Iniesta's tendency to drift infield will force Maggio onto his weaker left foot, and the Napoli man is likely to require support from his colleagues in central midfield.
<b>Xavi (ESP) v Andrea Pirlo (ITA)</b><br><br> It is rare for playmakers to find themselves in direct opposition to each other, but Pirlo's habitual positioning in front of the Italian defence means he will be operating in the same territory as Spain's chief schemer, Xavi. The 33-year-old Pirlo configures his side's attacks with strafing passes from deep positions and Xavi, perhaps in tandem with Spain's starting striker, will need to cut out those passes before they are launched.<br><br> Xavi's failure to impose himself at the tournament has been symptomatic of Spain's toils in attack, but he will only need an inch of room to punish Italy and remind the world of his quality.
<b>Xabi Alonso (ESP) v Daniele De Rossi (ITA)</b><br><br> Having been deployed at the heart of a three-man defence in Italy's first two games, De Rossi has since returned to his preferred role in central midfield. His aggressive tackling helped set the tone for the 2-1 victory over Germany in Warsaw. <br><br> With Xavi short of form, Xabi Alonso has emerged as the key creative force in the reigning champions' midfield. Italy coach Cesare Prandelli will not want the gifted Real Madrid organiser to be given too much time on the ball and one of De Rossi's chief responsibilities will be to deny Alonso space.
<b>Sergio Ramos (ESP) v Mario Balotelli (ITA)</b><br><br> The enfant terrible of Italian football, Balotelli stamped his mark on the competition with a fine brace against Germany - a powerful header followed by an emphatic finish that left goalkeeper Manuel Neuer rooted to the spot. The partnership between Balotelli and Antonio Cassano is liable to give Spain's defenders headaches, with both men prone to drift wide, obliging their markers to move out of position.<br><br> Ramos and fellow centre-back Gerard Pique must also be alert to high balls over the top of the Spanish defence, as Italy possess pinpoint passers in the shape of Pirlo and Riccardo Montolivo.