Spain - Italy Preview: Reigning champions take on troubled Azzurri in Group C opener
The 2008 winners start the defence of their title at the finals facing another of the European giants, but recent events have seemingly weakened Cesare Prandelli's side
By Adam Scime
Arbeloa, Ramos, Pique, Alba
Xabi Alonso, Busquets
Silva, Xavi, Iniesta
Bonucci, De Rossi, Chiellini
Maggio, T. Motta, Pirlo, Marchisio, B'retti
Spain will have to go through Euro 2012 without influential duo David Villa and Carles Puyol, who were ruled out of the finals before the tournament started due to injury.
Therefore, Chelsea striker Fernando Torres, who has been inconsistent over the last 18 months, will likely be given the nod by coach Vicente del Bosque to start up front, although Athletic Bilbao's Fernando Llorente is another option.
At the back, due to Puyol's absence, Sergio Ramos should slot in at centre-back with Alvaro Arbeloa at right-back. Meanwhile, midfielder Cesc Fabregas may not be risked from the start after picking up a thigh problem in the Copa del Rey final but Juan Mata and Santi Cazorla will be hoping for a chance in more attacking roles.
Italy have more than their fair share of problems, however, with an investigation into a betting scandal resulting in Domenico Criscito being cut from the team, first-choice striker Giuseppe Rossi out of the tournament due to ligament damage and Andrea Barzagli being sidelined for the first two matches with a calf strain.
Defender Giorgio Chiellini missed the Azzurri's 3-0 friendly loss to Russia, but has claimed he is fully recovered and should start at the back. Midfielder Daniele De Rossi is likely to move into a three-man defence as Prandelli switches from a 4-3-1-2 to a 3-5-2 formation in the hope of changing their fortunes.
Emanuele Giaccherini and Federico Balzaretti will battle it out for a spot on the left of midfield but Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli are expected to continue their partnership up front.
|DID YOU KNOW?|
- Spain have a record of W8 D11 L10 all-time versus Italy, but seven of those victories have come in friendly matches.
- La Furia Roja have won an impressive 41 of their last 45 competitive matches and 14 of them in a row.
- On their way to the title at Euro 2008, Spain beat the Azzurri in a penalty shootout after a 0-0 draw at the quarter-final stage.
- Goalkeeper Iker Casillas recently earned his 73rd clean sheet with Spain in a 2-0 friendly win over Serbia, surpassing the international record set by Netherlands' Edwin van der Sar.
- Italy last faced Spain in a friendly in August 2011, winning 2-1 in Bari with goals from Riccardo Montolivo and Alberto Aquilani.
- Cassano was the top-scorer for Italy during their qualifying campaign, scoring six goals.
- The Italians have won only two of their last nine games at the European Championships, drawing five and losing the other two.
- None of the players in Prandelli's squad have scored more than 10 goals for their country with Antonio Di Natale and Daniele De Rossi both at that mark.
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Top 3 Predictions
Spain 1-2 Italy
- 16.21 %
Spain 2-0 Italy
- 14.72 %
Spain 2-1 Italy
- 12.04 %
|International Friendlies (FR)||Mar 5, 2014||Spain 1 - Italy 0|
|World - FIFA Confederations Cup (FCC)||Jun 27, 2013||Spain 0 - Italy 0|
|Euro 2012 (EC)||Jul 1, 2012||Spain 4 - Italy 0|
|Euro 2012 (EC)||Jun 10, 2012||Spain 1 - Italy 1|
|International Friendlies (FR)||Aug 10, 2011||Italy 2 - Spain 1|
|Mar 5, 2014||Spain 1 - Italy 0||FR|
|Nov 19, 2013||South Africa 1 - Spain 0||FR|
|Nov 16, 2013||Equatorial Guinea 1 - Spain 2||FR|
|Oct 15, 2013||Spain 2 - Georgia 0||WCQ|
|Oct 11, 2013||Spain 2 - Belarus 1||WCQ|
|6||Andrés Iniesta Luján||Midfielder|
|22||Jesús Navas González||Midfielder|
|16||Daniele De Rossi||Midfielder|
|-||Morgan De Sanctis|
|-||Antonio Di Natale|
The Barcelona star is considered one of football's playmaking masters, but he'll be facing a worthy foe in Andrea Pirlo on Sunday. The 32-year-old will aim to dictate the tempo of the match better than his opposition at the heart of the midfield if he succeeds then his side should be set for a victory.
Although renowned for their defence, Italy showed plenty of defensive fragility during the recent 3-0 friendly loss to Russia. The return of the Juventus centre-back should add some much-needed stability to the defence, whether it be four men at the back or just three.
Both teams are missing some big stars at Euro 2012, but the champions are going into the tournament on a winning streak, even if their last performances have not set the world alight. Meanwhile, Prandelli's men have lost their last three games and failed to score in each of them. If Italy play like they did against Spain last August few can stop them, but which Azzurri side will we see on Sunday? A betting man would probably say one that is not at its best.