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Analysis: Red reign or Blue heaven? Goal.com's experts compare the combatants in the final of Euro 2012

Analysis: Red reign or Blue heaven? Goal.com's experts compare the combatants in the final of Euro 2012

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Paddy Higgs takes on Spain while Dejan Kalinic looks at Italy, as the battle for Euro 2012 moves towards what is sure to be an intriguing climax

ROAD TO THE FINAL

Spain conceded the only goal of their Euro 2012 campaign against Italy in their tournament opener, subsequently moving through Group C with wins over the Republic of Ireland and Croatia.  They coasted by France in the quarter-finals before overcoming Iberian rivals Portugal in the semi-finals on penalties, but have been effective rather than spectacular.

Italy have looked untroubled throughout Euro 2012, opening their campaign with a respectable draw against Spain in Group C before a draw with Croatia and a victory over the Republic of Ireland. They needed penalties to deservedly edge past England in their quarter-final before a surprisingly comfortable win over Germany to book their place in the final.          


TACTICS

Yards of column space have been dedicated to Spain's tactics, with Vicente Del Bosque favouring a 'false nine' system - relying instead on his side's quality in midfield - in three of Spain's five matches in the tournament.  It has made for some frustrating watching for many; Spain have dominated possession in each of their matches but have struggled to convert that into goals.  Only against the Republic of Ireland did they truly show their attacking verve, with Fernando Torres scoring twice in his only start of the tournament.  They also struggled to break down a disciplined Portugal in the semi-finals. But Del Bosque's side have reached the final regardless, and few will care about the perceived dullness of Spain's play if they successfully defend their European crown.

Cesare Prandelli has a welcome tactical dilemma ahead of the clash against the reigning champions, who they went close to beating in their Euro 2012 opener. The 3-5-2, which worked so well on that occasion, has since been replaced by a 4-1-3-2 to great effect, and the latter is likely to be persisted with now that Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini are both fit. Andrea Pirlo, touted as a leading contender for player of the tournament, is the deepest-lying of the midfielders, who when attacking shape as a narrow diamond, with Riccardo Montolivo at the point. Italy look most threatening when Pirlo takes possession in his team's attacking half, while Daniele De Rossi is more than capable of receiving the ball deep and playing out if Pirlo is marked.


WEAKNESSES

Portugal showed how a disciplined approach can stifle Spain in the semi-finals, closing down the reigning champions early in possession to keep them from building substantial attacking moves.  Del Bosque has put his faith in his midfield but - as good as the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, and David Silva are - Spain have missed the cutting edge of injured striker David Villa.

Italy could be their own worst enemy in the final, particularly if they fail to take their chances. No team has had more attempts [55] on goal at this tournament than Prandelli's men, but netting just six times is a worry. Mario Balotelli is a match-winner but can be profligate when provided with an opportunity, while questions remains over who else can score for Italy.


STRENGTHS

Teams cannot score without the ball, and trying to win possession from Spain is one of the toughest tasks in football.  Xavi, Silva, Xabi Alonso, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets form Euro 2012's best midfield, and it has been reflected in their dominance of possession.  Even with Andrea Pirlo, Italy gave up 62 percent of possession to Spain in their group encounter.

A strong, compact defence and fluid midfield are Italy's strengths. The back four - or three - and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon are reliable and Vicente del Bosque's men are sure to find creating clear-cut chances difficult. The flexible midfield, led by Pirlo, has an excellent understanding and work to provide space and cover for each other when need be.


STAR MAN

If Barcelona needed any convincing of Jordi Alba's quality, they have got it during Euro 2012.  The 23-year-old will move from Valencia back to Barca - the club of his youth - after the tournament, and has shown he is move than capable of filling the club's problematic left-back position.  Damaging when marauding forward but capable of getting back when he needs to, Alba has been the standout for Spain.

Pirlo has not only been Italy's star performer, but one of the shining lights in Poland and Ukraine. Rejuvenated after being let go by AC Milan at the end of the 2010-11 season, the 33-year-old helped Juventus to the Serie A title in his first campaign with the club. Pirlo's skill, poise and composure on the ball complement his ability to pick out long and short passes, while his set-pieces are also dangerous.


WHAT IT WOULD MEAN

History beckons for Spain.  Victory will ensure they become the first team to win three successive major tournaments, while they would also become the first team to successfully defend their European title.  None have doubted Spain's quality, but a win would certify what is one of football's great dynasties.  It would also be yet another honour for what has been a truly golden generation for Spain, with their quality showing little signs of tarnish. And in the gloom of Europe's financial woes, the Euro 2012 title would bring plenty of pleasure to a country that - like opponents Italy - has plenty to concern itself with off the pitch.                  

In the wake of the latest match-fixing scandal that has engulfed Italian football, the national team has already shown great character throughout the tournament and a win would put the icing on the cake. The trophy would be a first major title since the 2006 World Cup and a first European crown since 1968. In a broader context, a victory could have great social ramifications, particularly if potential Golden Boot winner Balotelli leads the way. If the Manchester City striker is the hero, some think Italy would become a more understanding and less racist nation, with 59 racial incidents were reported during the last Serie A season.


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