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The 41-year-old, who earned 22 Azzurri caps, is realistic about his country's chances having played for them at Euro '96 where they crashed out at the group stages

EXCLUSIVE
By Paolo Camedda

Former Italy striker Enrico Chiesa has spoken of his delight, after seeing "an enormous effort" earn his country a draw against world and European champions Spain.

Antonio Di Natale came off the bench to score for the Italians in their Euro 2012 opener, before they were pegged back by a quick reply from Cesc Fabregas.

Despite both teams proving difficult to break down for long periods, Chiesa believes the game was the highlight of the tournament so far.

"It was a great game. The result is good, but it's a pity we could not hold onto the lead for longer, because it would have been tough for Spain to recover," he told Goal.com.

"From a technical point of view, I enjoyed this game most. This is definitely a beautiful European Championship."

Chiesa knows what it takes to lead the line for the Azzurri, having done so on 22 occasions, and has defended the performance of Manchester City's Mario Balotelli.

"He [Balotelli] made a mistake there, no doubt [when through on goal in the second half]," he added.

"In my opinion, he did not know whether to shoot on goal or pass the ball to Cassano, who was unmarked at the far post. His was a technical error, because he did not think that Sergio Ramos could get back and wasted too much time.

"Certainly the attack suffered. Balotelli and Cassano had to do the dirty work and sacrifice themselves for the team. But I think  that they both played good games tactically. Clearly both can do much more and bring something more technically, but yesterday was a particular game."

Despite the Azzurri's solid performance, Chiesa believes that Spain remain favourites to top Group C, and thinks Italy's next game against Croatia will be vital.

"Spain are undoubtedly the favorites, because they are the strongest side. Yesterday, however, they were at great risk," he added.

"If they had had to suffer for another 10 minutes, I don't know whether they would have been able to draw level.

"The risk level playing against Croatia is very high, this is the toughest game of the group for us. Italy absolutely have to win because a draw would not be enough.

"There could be two or three changes given the enormous effort against Spain, but it all depends on how Italy recover in these next few days. However, given how well the team played against Spain, I am very optimistic."

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