Spain, Italy duel for Euro 2012 title

SpainItaly (Getty Images)

Maybe Group C was the Group of Death after all.

Spain and Italy, the two Euro 2012 finalists, emerged from the same group, each dispatching the two survivors from the fear-inspiring Group B, with Portugal and Germany falling by the wayside. Now, they play for the second time this tournament with a chance to claim European bragging rights ahead of the next World Cup qualifying cycle. 

When Spain and Italy met in the opening game of the group stage, they played to a 1-1 draw, with Antonio Di Natale's goal at the hour mark quickly being offset by Cesc Fabregas. Both teams missed golden chances to steal three points, though. Fernando Torres was particularly wasteful for Spain, missing a couple of late chances, while Mario Balotelli appeared to have a clear path to shoot on goal before hesitating and allowing Sergio Ramos to catch him from behind and spoil the oportunity.

Both teams tangle again with Europe's biggest prize on the line and each going for a legacy-sealing win. For Spain, it's three consecutive major titles. For Italy, it's two major championships in six years. Either way, an epic final is in the offing.

Here's a closer look at the tale of the tape between Spain and Italy:

TALE OF THE TAPE: SPAIN VS. ITALY

ROAD TO THE FINAL

SPAIN

Finished first in Group C: Tied Italy 1-1; Beat Republic of Ireland 4-0; Beat Croatia 1-0

Defeated France in quarterfinals 2-0; Defeated Portugal in semifinals 0-0 (4-2 in penalties)

ITALY

Finished second in Group C: Tied Spain 1-1; Tied Croatia 1-1; Beat Republic of Ireland 2-0

Defeated England in quarterfinals 0-0 (4-2 in penalties); Defeated Germany in semifinals 2-1

RECENT CHAMPIONSHIPS

SPAIN

2010 FIFA World Cup, 2008 European championship

ITALY 

2006 FIFA World Cup

GOAL SCORERS

SPAIN

Xabi Alonso, 2 goals

Cesc Fabregas, 2 goals

Fernando Torres, 2 goals

Jesus Navas, 1 goal

David Silva, 1 goal

ITALY

Mario Balotelli, 3 goals

Andrea Pirlo, 1 goal

Antonio Di Natale, 1 goal

Antonio Cassano, 1 goal

THREE KEY PLAYERS

SPAIN

Xavi – A surprisingly understated tournament for the Barcelona star could be redeemed with a top-notch final. Going up against the likes of Pirlo in the center will be one of the most fascinating individual battles of the game.

Andres Iniesta – He scored the game-winner against the Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup final and has a penchant for coming up when it matters the most for both club and country.

Fabregas – Vicente del Bosque's lack of trust in any of his strikers and inventiveness to play Fabregas as a "False No. 9" has placed a great deal of pressure on Fabregas to come through. He responded against Italy in the opener, and his clinching PK sent Portugal packing in the semifinals.

ITALY

Balotelli – The wildcard of all wildcards showed what he's capable of in the semifinal against Germany and can claim the Golden Boot with another goal. Had his chances to burn Gerard Pique and Ramos in the opener and appears to be locked in with the trophy on the line.

Pirlo – Juventus' ageless playmaker has been pure class all tournament and is the fulcrum of Italy's attack. An influential final likely clinches the Golden Ball.

Federico Balzaretti - Cesare Prandelli shifted Balzaretti to right back to deal with the likes of Philipp Lahm against Germany, and the move paid off. With Iniesta and left back Jordi Alba roaming up and down his flank, whoever is manning that side will play a huge role in determining Spain's attacking fortunes. Should Balzaretti be passed over in favor of Ignazio Abate — who could be fit again for the final — or Christian Maggio, then the onus is on them to halt Spain's forays on that side.

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Who do you think will win the Euro 2012 final? Which Balotelli do you think will show up? What do you think will be the difference in the final?

Share your thoughts below.

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26 Responses to Spain, Italy duel for Euro 2012 title

  1. A says:

    It all depends on who controls the midfield. Pirlo has been playing incredibly well, but with Xabi Alonso and Busquets patrolling the midfield his freedom to dictate pace and control could be greatly diminished.

    Italy doesn’t have the flank or forward speed that Portugal possesses and that frees up Spain’s defense to key in on Balotelli since he will most likely be alone and forced to create chances on his own for much of the match.

    Italy will sit very deep against Spain, which leads me to believe that VDB will go without a striker (who would have little room to run). Fabregas could prove to be the key to the game without question.

    Beyond that it’s a crap shoot.

  2. betamale says:

    Italy is probably playing the best football of the tournament with Di Rossi & Pirlo leading the charge. If Cassano & Balo have good games, I don’t see why they can’t beat Spain and look impressive in doing so.

    I’m tired of watching Spain. Their games are boring.

  3. Cabrito says:

    This game has 0-0 and pk’s written all over it.

  4. Devin says:

    Agreed. Spain get their one goal and then play the equivalent of a “Four Corners Offense” (basketball) for the rest of the match. It’s awful to watch. Ruthlessly effective but not exactly inspiring football. It’d be one thing if all of that possession led to scoring chances, but their possession just takes the air out of the ball. Yuck.

  5. Hokie_Futbol says:

    what an unwatchable game…diving will be rampant.

  6. dan says:

    Spain = Barcelona without Messi.

    I think one big difference between Barcelona and Spain is that Spain has possession of the ball on the middle of the field while Barcelona has possession right outside the box; So even if Barcelona is sometimes boring to watch they can score at any moment since they are very close to the goal while Spain like you said, “takes the air out of the ball” very far from the goal.

  7. PD says:

    Soccer finals are about more than goals folks. This matchup will be great, even if they manage to nullify each other for 120 minutes, watching how that unfolds will be very interesting and full of drama.

  8. JJJ says:

    I agree, I was rooting for Portugal because I was so annoyed with the Spanish players flopping like fishes every time they were fouled. It was classless soccer in my opinion.

  9. Judging Amy says:

    I feel the same way. When Spain presses their attack they’re beautifully deadly but their interminable tiki taka around the middle of the field is frustrating to watch (and must be frustrating for opponents too). For neutrals I don’t know if Spain is that exciting to watch (aside from their wonderful highlight reel plays). They’re also terrible divers, complainers and lispers.

  10. Judging Amy says:

    This is true.

  11. Judging Amy says:

    De rossi and pirlo have been brilliant. I agree with you on Spain and the boring factor.

  12. biff says:

    +1. Cannot wait for this one. I love both these teams, and can be happy either way, but will be cheering for Italy. I bet anyone 25 cents right now that Balotelli scores at least one goal. Both his sweet little mom and his dad are going to be in the stands and I think the guy is fated to score a goal against Spain in a Euro Cup final to dedicate to them. Would be a sight to behold.

    I think Italy’s chances of winning increase sharply if Del Bosque goes with Fabregas as False 9. I would love to see him start Torres (or Llorente on top) Pedro as right wing and Navas on left wing with Iniesta as central attacking midfielder backed by defensive midfielders Alonso and Busquets. Xavi has been invisible so far this tournament and I see him as liability against a great team like Italy. (did I say great?) In any case, Del Bosque would have Xavi for back-up in the second half, along with Fabregas and Silva.

  13. Mike r says:

    +1 You took the words right out of my mouth

  14. HoboMike says:

    I agree with your first sentence, but let’s just say the matchup has the potential to be great. If we’re treated to the international version of Barcelona/Chelsea, with one team dominating possession and the other content to play defense (actually, England/Italy may be more apt here), then I doubt many neutrals will think this is a great final.

    The Spain/France matchup also had the potential to be great, and we saw where that got us.

  15. Span16 says:

    For those saying that Italy will only defend… You havent been watching all tournament. I’m interested to see what formation Prandelli chooses for the final…352 with derossi in the back like they used the first game against Spain or the 4312 theyve employed for the last three games.

  16. Misfit1182 says:

    Haha!!! Portugal or the CR7s are notorious for flopping! If flopping were a kin to art theyd be the picasso of it. Look at at their qualifying results. 1/3 of their goals were direct free kicks. It’s in there soccer DNA. Italy has Catenaccio, Spain has “la furia offense”. Portugal has Flop-for-CR7-to-score-free-kick. It’s in the handbook read it.

  17. Misfit1182 says:

    This will be a scintillating match up. I believe they will go at it for 90 mins or even more. If you watch any time these two teams meet its never dull. Watch some older games between the two. Watch the group match. The 1-1 result was almost like a “to be continued” result. Both teams wanted more of each other. Del Bosque said it himself today that Italy was the only team this euro to have outplayed them. Germany to me was the best team but they were frightenly easily desposed of by Italy. This whole Euro campaign has been like watching a Rocky movie. With Spain it’s Rocky 1 & 2. Germany was 4. :-)

  18. Misfit1182 says:

    I don’t think prandelli will go with a 3-5-2 formation again. He did that last time because of the personnel injuries he had in his squad. Two of main center backs were hurting with one being out of it completely. I expect to see a 4-3-1-2 set up with Italy to try and clog the midfield and force Spain out wide. Del Bosque actually might start Torres in this one seeing that Italy will be trying to push Spain out wide.

  19. Tyrone says:

    I’m a neutral and Spain is awesome to watch. I enjoy Italy too though. I don’t remember a lot of this “boring” talk happening when Spain won the World Cup and they played basically the same way as now. I think observers are starting to throw around the term “boring” a lot more because Spain are now habitual champions and people like to root for the underdog.

  20. Tyrone says:

    I’ll be watching the game and I’m guessing the ratings will prove your statement in the minority. Should be a great match.

  21. Tyrone says:

    I don’t think it really matters if some people think it will be a boring final. I feel like we as American fans want the game to be more exciting than it is, because we’re spoiled by sports like basketball. I’m sure many people outside of our great a country can appreciate and find a match between Spain and Italy to be more than exciting.

  22. Judging Amy says:

    There’s probably some truth in what you’re saying. Personally Spain’s style and some players grate on me, but there’s undeniable beauty in Spain’s technical brilliance.

  23. Juan says:

    England has a Pirlo-type that is even better. His name is David Beckham…losers.

  24. biff says:

    ooops. I meant Pedro on left wing and Navas on right, where both played after being subbed in during the second half against Portugal.

  25. biff says:

    But, HoboMike, that is not what PD said. He said even if it is goalless and defense it can still be dramatic and I agree. think of Italy-Germay WC 2006, first goal of the match at 128 minutes and that is one of the classic matches of all time and just watching Grosso ran wild down the pitch shaking his head and nearly crying with joy makes the whole previous 128 minutes worthwhile

    link to youtube.com

    Or Spain’s goal in overtime to beat Germany in the WC 2010 semi-final and ditto Spain’s loan goal in the WC 2010 to whip Dutch thugs.

  26. biff says:

    Well put, like your imagery. And as for Germany, Felix Magath, whose coaching methods that verge on abuse of players I detest but who is no doubt a tactically smart coach, wrote what I think is the best analysis so far of Germany’s loss. (By the way, Magath is the son of a US soldier). Here is a link to his analysis:

    link to tinyurl.com