Italy raise the bar but Cesc Fabregas pops up to spare Spain's blushes

Spain 1 Italy 1

The PGE Arena

Before kick-off the announcers tried to encourage the stadium into Mexican waves. This was no kind of game for such fripperies. It was a meeting of the big beasts, the last two nations to win the World Cup. It was Ali v Frazier and at the end both were standing.

A side mired in corruption allegations might have been expected to have felt canvas on their face. The shipyards where Polish communism began to crumble lie a couple of tram stops from the Gdansk Arena, and those Italians who made their way to the stadium would have seen the billboards with their Solidarity slogans that read: "We Will Win Anyway." It was two-fingered and defiant, and probably summed up the mood in Cesare Prandelli's dressing room.

Two of their number had been implicated in a match-fixing scandal. Their form had been erratic, the team patched up to the extent that the Roma midfielder, Daniele De Rossi, was pressed into service as a centre-half against men who can pass it like no other in world football. Their captain, Gianluigi Buffon, had talked of fear mingling with anticipation as the world champions approached.

And yet Italy had carried off two World Cups in the teeth of corruption scandals. They did not win here but, against every expectation, they were the better team.

Compared with his opposite number, Vicente Del Bosque, Prandelli has won almost nothing as a manager but tactically he proved the better judge. However beautifully they had played to win the World and European Championship, Spain had needed a high-class centre-forward. In 2008, it was Fernando Torres, two years later it was David Villa. This time, the miner's son from Asturias was injured, and Torres spent all but the last 15 minutes on the bench.

When he did come on, there were still traces of rust on his lime-green boots. There was one moment when it seemed he might finish off the Italians as he had finished off Barcelona in the European Cup semi-final. Bursting through, he turned his marker and chipped Buffon – and looked up to see the ball drift over the bar. Had he started, his touch might have been different.

With an attacking force of three midfielders, Del Bosque's side were an elegant rapier without a point and until David Silva threaded a wonderfully-timed pass that allowed Cesc Fabregas to pull the game level, Italy, with five in midfield, carried width and far more of a threat.

Mostly it came from Antonio Cassano, who was stricken by heart problems on Milan's flight back from Rome in the autumn and ought logically to have played only a peripheral role in Euro 2012.

In one period of the first half, he drove a ball across the face of goal, had a shot half-spilled by Iker Casillas, who then pushed away a header from Thiago Motta, whose inclusion as a "plastic Italian" – he was born in Brazil – had brought down more ordure on Prandelli's head.

The Italy manager, however, does not suffer foolish decisions. Compared with Cassano, Mario Balotelli had not had much of a game, but now he won the ball and surged forward. There was an obvious square ball to his partner but instead he lingered, and was dispossessed by Sergio Ramos, one of nine members of Del Bosque's starting line-up to play for either Real Madrid or Barcelona.

Almost instantly, Balotelli was off, replaced by Antonio Di Natale and within minutes the Italians, deservedly, were ahead. Invariably when asked to name the player they feared most, Del Bosque's squad named Andrea Pirlo. Having been forced out of Milan, he went to Juventus and helped win them the Scudetto without losing a game; a revenge as icily cold as any exacted in the works of Machiavelli.

Now, he pushed through the kind of pass Di Natale would have dreamed of. The Udinese striker measured himself and drove the ball past Casillas, in front of the 6,000 who had come from Italy.

They had been vastly outnumbered by those from Spain. Early on, their singing had the confidence of champions with "Viva España" and then "tiki-taka, tiki-taka, hey hey" as a string of gorgeous passing led into one cul-de-sac after another. When Di Natale put Italy ahead, the big bass drum called El Bombo, which is carried everywhere among the Spanish fans, began its beat, and the chanting became more serious.

Then came Fabregas. Four years before, in Vienna, he had come of age in the Spanish side, putting away the decisive penalty in the shoot-out that sent his country into the semi-finals of Euro 2008 and sealed their first victory over Italy. He had commented then that the goal had seemed very small as he stepped up. In four years, it has grown in size considerably.

Match facts

Scorers. Spain: Fabregas 64. Italy: Di Natale 60.

Substitutes: Spain Jesus Navas (Silva, 65), Torres (Fabregas, 74). Italy Di Natale (Balotelli, 57), Giovinco (Cassano, 65), Nocerino (Motta, 90).

Booked: Spain Alba, Arbeloa, Torres. Italy Balotelli, Bonucci, Chiellini, Maggio.

Man of the match Iniesta. Match rating 7/10.

Possession: Spain 65% Italy 35%.

Attempts on target: Spain 9 Italy 6.

Referee V Kassai (Hungary).

Attendance 43,615.

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Caption competition
Caption competition

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn