Spain v Italy: Euro 2012 match preview

 

The stage is set…Will Spain pull off the miraculous feat of winning three major tournaments in a row, or will the Italian underdogs continue their amazing rise?

The Italians have upset the odds already, and at 15/1 before the tournament the Azurri are looking like a great bet.

The Spanish haven’t looked at their scintillating best this time around, and Cesare Prandelli’s men have looked a lot more dangerous than people had anticipated.

Here are all the stats, facts and key battles for the game...

 

KEY BATTLES…

Andrea Pirlo v Xavi

Andrea Pirlo is undoubtedly the form player for Italy and has been awarded the man of the match award a staggering three times this tournament. The veteran midfielder has been pulling the strings to great effect for the Azurri since the start of the competition. No side has felt it necessary to man mark the skillful playmaker, but they have all played the price. Xavi, like his opposite man, has been running the show for Spain, dictating play with his precision passing. The Spaniard has strung 465 successful passes to Pirlo’s 320. Both are legends of the game and their performances may determine the outcome of the game.

Cesc Fabregas v Leonardo Bonucci

It is difficult to know what line-up or formation Vincent del Bosque will play on Sunday evening, but after a disappointing performance from Alvaro Negredo against Portugal it is likely Cesc Fabregas will start in the “fake No.9” position. Cesc has scored two goals this tournament and has always looked threatening when he is on the field. Scoring the winning penalty against Portugal may just give him the confidence to put in a match-winning performance in the final. Leonardo Bonucci will have to have his wits about him if he is to deal with the incessant movement of Spain’s midfield maestros. Fabregas is an intelligent footballer and will inevitably find space in behind the backline for one of his like-minded colleagues to slip him the killer ball. The Italian may have his hands full and will have to play out of his skin to keep the Spanish at bay.

Mario Balotelli v Gerard Pique

Mario Balotelli was in spectacular form in Italy’s semi-final with Germany. The striker was strong when holding up the ball and the German defence didn’t know how to deal with his movement, as was seen with both of his goals. The 21-year-old is infamous for his unpredictability, but he has grown in stature and seems to have matured since his side’s opening clash of the tournament with Spain. Gerard Pique was part of a Spanish defence that kept out an in-form Ronaldo in the semi-final, but at times looked unusually shaky when put under pressure. ‘Super Mario’ spent large parts of the semi-final hassling the German centre-backs so Pique will have to show more composure. He will need to be alert to Balotelli’s movement and be prepared for a physical battle because if the big striker gets any space he will surely not be caught dawdling as he was by Sergio Ramos in the first clash between the two sides.

Andres Iniesta v Claudio Marchisio

Claudio Marchisio put in a top-notch performance against Germany, passing the ball well and demonstrating high energy levels when harrying the opposition midfield. His role will be crucial for Italy in the final as he closes down the Spanish and tries to break up their hypnotic passing game. His main concern will be Andres Iniesta. The attacking midfielder is one of the hardest players in the world to mark, thanks to his intelligent movement, and was the only player to really cause Italy problems when the two sides met in the group stages. In order to nullify the main strength of Spain’s attack, Marchisio will have to work hard to track Iniesta and not allow him to slip into the pockets of space he can so devastatingly exploit.

 

THE STORY SO FAR…

Spain finished top of Group C. Their opening game was a 1-1 draw with the Italians followed by a 4-0 hammering of Ireland. Their last group game was a less than convincing 1-0 victory over Croatia. In the quarter finals they dispatched an unimpressive French side 2-0, before overcoming neighbours Portugal in the semi-final on penalties.

Italy were runners-up in Group C behind Spain. Despite suffering pre-tournament set backs and it being suggested they had a week team, Cesare Prandelli’s men put in an impressive performance in their opening game, drawing 1-1 with Spain. Their second game was a 1-1 draw with Croatia and their progression to the knockout rounds was secured with a 2-0 win over Ireland. In the quarter finals Italy beat England on penalties and then in the semi-finals they gave a superb performance to overcome hotly favoured Germany 2-1.

 

STATS AND FACTS…

The top three players for each side at the tournament so far, according to the official Euro 2012 Castrol ratings:

Italy: Mario Balotelli 9.38, Claudio Marchisio 9.33, Gianluigi Buffon 9.02

Spain: Gerard Pique 9.54, Xabi Alonso 9.48, Andres Iniesta 9.43

Mario Balotelli has had 14 attempts on target, the most of the two sides.

Andres Iniesta is close behind on 13, although the Spaniard hasn’t hit the back of the net yet while Balotelli has scored three.

Spain, unsurprisingly, dominate the passing statistics, with three of the top four playing for Los Rojas. Xavi tops the charts with 455 completed passes at a pass completion percentage of 85 per cent. Xabi Alonso is second with 416 passes at 83 per cent.

Andrea Pirlo is third in the charts having completed 354 passes with a pass completion percentage of 77 per cent.

If Mario Balotelli can add to his goal tally he could very well win the Golden Boot outright. At the moment he is tied level with several other players on three.

Spain have three players on two goals: Cesc Fabregas, Xabi Alonso and Fernando Torres. If Fabregas does start in his “false striker” role he will surely be looking to add to his tally and compete with Balotelli.

David Silva leads the assist charts with three while Andrea Pirlo is just behind him on two.

 

DID YOU KNOW…

If Spain win, they will equal Germany's record of three European titles. Spain won the second Euro tournament in 1964 and the last one in 2008.

Italy's only previous European title was as hosts in 1968 when they beat Yugoslavia in the final.

The European final has never been decided by a penalty shootout in 13 previous tournaments. The last two finals were decided by a solitary goal - Greece beat hosts Portugal 1-0 in 2004 and Spain beat Germany 1-0 four years ago in Vienna.

Spain have met Italy seven times before in major tournaments and never managed an outright win. Their only success was in a penalty shootout at Euro 2008 in the quarter-finals following a 0-0 draw. The two met in the group stage at this tournament and drew 1-1.

If Mario Balotelli, who slotted two goals in Italy's 2-1 semi-final victory over Germany, finds the net again he could take home the golden boot award with four goals. Balotelli shares the lead on three goals with Alan Dzagoev of Russia, Mario Gomez of Germany, Mario Mandzukic of Croatia and Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal.

The only player to score against Spain in this tournament is Italy's Antonio Di Natale, who came on as a second half substitute in the group game and found the net within five minutes.

Italy have lost only two of their last 19 matches outright at European Championships. Those losses were in the 2000 final when they went down 2-1 to France in extra time, and a 3-0 loss to the Netherlands in a 2008 group game. They went out on penalties to Spain in the quarter-finals that year after a 0-0 draw.

Spain have never defeated Italy in regulation time in a major tournament.

Spain have enjoyed 66.8 per cent average possession in their matches, Italy 53.2 per cent.

Italy leads the tally for shots on goal with 99 against Spain’s 87 but the latter with 36 shots, has 6 more shots on target.

Italy have not trailed for a single minute in Euro 2012.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Highs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
News
news
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam