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June 10, 2012
• PGE Arena Gdańsk, Gdańsk
Referee: V. Kassai
• Attendance: 38869
A. Di Natale 60'
So, Italy surprise Spain by securing a thoroughly-deserved point. Del Bosque needs to sort out his striking issues, while Prandelli has problems of his own with Balotelli looking out of sorts this afternoon and Di Natale impressing after coming on as a substitute. Thank you for joining me for Goal.com's LIVE coverage of this evening's entertaining Group C tie. Goodbye!
Ash Sharma reports from inside the stadium in the moments after the final whistle. "The Italian celebrations at the end suggest that for them this was a better result than it was for the Spanish. To not lose this game has really set Italy up to go through in the group."
FULL-TIME: SPAIN 1-1 ITALY. Spain's false nine outshone Spain's real nine as Cesc Fabregas scored the equalising goal in Gdansk after some neat build-up play from David Silva and Andres Iniesta. Antonio Di Natale had given Italy the lead with a brilliantly-taken finish just minutes before. Both sides wasted chances in the second half, with Marchisio shooting straight at Casillas for Italy, and Fernando Torres missing a hatful of chances by himself after coming on as a second-half substitute. The spoils are shared, with the other two teams in Group C, Croatia and Ireland, set to kick-off in just under an hours time.
90' + 2'
The referee blows the final whistle!
90' + 2'
XABI ALONSO SHANKS ONE WIDE!! The Spain midfielder has a shooting chance in the final moments of the game, but his effort is sliced wide. The clock is ticking. There is not long left in this one.
90' + 1'
We are into added time here in Gdansk. Torres bursts, yes bursts, down the left before swinging a ball into the box, but De Rossi is there to hack the ball away from the Italy goal.
It is Xabi Alonso's turn to waste a set piece, as his effort goes quite some way high and wide of Buffon's goal.
Yellow Card Christian Maggio
Spain have another free-kick in a promising area, around 35 yards from goal, left of centre...
MARCHISIO COULD WRAP THINGS UP!! The Italy midfielder has a chance to give Italy a late lead but shoots straight down the throat of Casillas after finding space 15 yards from goal.
It appears the Spain fans at the Gdansk Arena aren't too happy with Torres' contribution since he came on as a substitute. Ashish Sharma reports that "a group of Spanish fans away to my left are aboslutely outraged by Torres' performance. When he had another one-on-one chance and passed to an Italian player they were livid. And just now after his chipped shot sailed over the bar they were all again up to voice their utter frustration. And in between he has managed to get booked!"
Yellow Card Fernando Torres
Yellow Card Arbeloa
It's all about Torres in this game in the final ten minutes. He gets booked for an elbow to the throat of De Rossi, that could easily have been a red card, before wasting yet another chance, this time chipping the ball high and wide after being played in by Iniesta.
Torres goes clean through once more but again he dallies on the ball and is dispossessed, this time by Chiellini. Spain's real number nine just didn't look like scoring there.
Italy are lucky to win a free-kick after Giovinco hurdles a challenge from Xabi Alonso in the centre circle. There was no contact whatsoever there, but perhaps the referee gave it more for the intent of the tackle from Alonso.
We've got some views from Ashish Sharma inside the stadium. "A tale of two reactions. Prandelli wide-eyed and biting his lip as Italy could have got a second. Meanwhile, Del Bosque, on seeing that gap in his defence just walked back to his bench almost in disgust."
Xavi's curling effort strikes the top of the jumping Italy wall and away.
Yellow Card Giorgio Chiellini
Spain have a free-kick 25 yards out...
More from our betting expert Jim Knight. "Spain have a striker. This is not a drill. I repeat, this is not a drill. Fernando Torres is on and he is currently available at 10/1 for the next goal, that is big, and a 2-1 win for Spain is available at 5/2, 15 minutes to go, something has to give" He tipped Di Natale to be next goalscorer as soon as he came on. Just saying...
Italy's two substitutes Giovinco and Di Natale nearly combine to restore Italy's lead. Giovinco plays a perfectly-weighted cross to Di Natale on the penalty spot, and he hits a flying right-footed volley that goes just wide. Great play from the diminutive duo.
AND HERE HE IS!! Torres is on, and he has a chance to score within seconds!! De Rossi steps up to try and play an offside trap but gets it all wrong as Navas curls the ball towards Torres. He runs towards goal but is dispossessed by a well-timed standing tackle from Buffon, who quickly came racing off his line. You can't help but think how the Torres of 2008 would have probably taken that chance with ease.
Navas does well on the right again, this time he lofts a cross to the back post to the waiting Jordi Alba who fires a first time volley a couple of yards wide of Buffon's goal. Brilliant wing-play from Navas there.
Spain want to win this one, and it looks like Fernando Torres is going to be the next man to be introduced for La Roja.
Del Bosque is looking worried on the sidelines despite his side equalising minutes after going behind. He is standing on the edge of his technical area with his hands in his pockets with a passive expression on his face.
Sergio Ramos' attempted overhead kick from the resulting corner is penalised for a high foot by the referee Viktor Kassai, which is a shame, as everyone loves a good overhead kick.
Spain are throwing men forward here, and the substitute Jesus Navas nearly has an immediate impact, winning a corner after his deflected cross loops just over Buffon's crossbar.
Here's Goal.com's Spain Expert, Ben Hayward's views on this second half: "Wonderful skill there from Iniesta. He's Spain's most in-form player right now and could yet make the difference in this match. Navas on to widen the pitch; momentum with Spain now. Still plenty left in this one."
The tackles are flying in here in Gdansk and Leonardo Bonucci finds his way into the referee's little black book after going in high and late on Iniesta.
Yellow Card Jordi Alba
Yellow Card Leonardo Bonucci
And now for my favourite stat of the day. Sebastian Giovinco has just come on for Italy, and he, ladies and gentlemen, is the shortest player in the tournament, measuring just 1.64m.
Jesús Navas González
Assist David Silva
Goal Cesc Fàbregas
GOALL FOR SPAIN!! AND GUESS WHO SCORED IT?? CESC FABREGAS OF COURSE!! Iniesta and Silva combine well on the edge of the Italy penalty area, with the latter of the two slipping the ball through to Fabregas who is running from deep. His finish from 12 yards is true, and this game is level. Game on!
I hope some of you jumped on that betting tip from our expert Jim Knight! Di Natale was 14/1 to be next goalscorer.
Assist Andrea Pirlo
Goal Antonio Di Natale
WHAT A FINISH FROM DI NATALE!!! That could well be his first touch! Italy take the lead with a superbly-taken finish from the substitute Di Natale after Pirlo had done brilliantly to curl a ball in to the attacker who opened his body up before curling an effort with his right foot past Casillas and into the far corner.
Our betting expert Jim Knight has got a nice tip for those of you out there who like the occasional gamble. "Not so super now are we Mario? Balotelli is hauled off after fluffing the clearest chance of the game and Di Natale comes on in his place - he is 14/1 to score next with Bet365"
As Ramos recovered to tackle Balotelli when he was through on goal the whole of the Spain bench were on their feet urging the full-back on. Torres, Santi Cazorla and Jesus Navas led the encouragement, suggesting that, despite the rumours of discord amongst the Spanish squad, they are actually far more united than they seem.
Antonio Di Natale
Prandelli clearly didn't like what he saw from Balotelli there, and he is subsequently hauled off to be replaced by Antonio Di Natale.
Here's some more news from our man at the ground Ashish Sharma: "At the start of the second half Cesare Prandelli has taken up his familiar position of hugging one corner of his technical area. One arm folded, the other up by his face as though he is in deep thought. Which undoubtedly he is. Wondering probably how his team can break down Spain."
WHAT A WASTE FROM BALOTELLI!! The Italy attacker does fantastically to nick the ball off Ramos on the right, and he has a long time to make his way into the area and shoot at goal, but he wants even longer, and the recovering Ramos isn't going to allow him that time, racing back to dispossess Balotelli with a sliding challenge.
INIESTA GOES CLOSE!! The impressive midfielder drives into the penalty area on the left before unleashing a stinging effort towards the far corner of Buffon's goal. But the Italy keeper is there to keep the scores level once more, producing a fine fingertip save to push the ball round the post.
BRILLIANT SAVE FROM BUFFON!! The Italy goalkeeper does really well to keep out Cesc Fabregas' curling effort as Spain appear to have stepped up a couple of gears in the last few minutes.
The camera has just panned to Manolo the drummer in the crowd. The Spain fan has been banging his drum at La Roja's games for the past 30 years!
Some composed defending from Chiellini on the left for Italy gets them out of a spot of bother as Fabregas and Silva threaten. The centre-back then sprays a fine ball down the wing to Cassano to complete a neat passage of play.
Confusion between Busquets and Pique on the edge of the Spain area nearly allows Balotelli a chance to get a shot away but Pique manages to recover and block the attacker's shot at goal.
We are back underway for the second half of this match here in Gdansk...
MATCH FACT: Italy's Giorgio Chiellini has the most successful pass rate of the opening forty five minutes for his side, at 84% Then it's Daniele De Rossi. Interestingly both of them are defenders. Meanwhile, the debutant Emanuele Giaccherini has run the furthest for his team's cause in the first half, 6.24 km.
Right on cue, here's our Spain expert Ben Hayward with his thoughts on that first half. "All passing and no penetration from Spain so far. For all their possession, triangles and intricate attacking play, La Roja have rarely looked like scoring so far. Italy created the best chances in an opening 45 minutes which will please those in blue much more than those in red. Iker Casillas has intervened with two fine saves and Spain's false-nine gamble hasn't really paid off so far. Perhaps the pace of Fernando Torres or the more direct style of Fernando Llorente will be called upon in the second half because at the moment, Italy look comfortable at the back. With Xavi, Andres Iniesta and David Silva roaming, however, the job is only half done for the Azzurri. An intriguing second period awaits."
So.... Cesc Fabregas as a striker... Personally, I'm not sure. Fabregas is clearly a brilliant player, but playing in that 'false nine' position for Spain in the first half, things just didn't really work for him. He was dropping back into midfield far too much, so much so that on one occasion Xabi Alonso had to shout at him to push further up the pitch. It will be interesting to see how long Del Bosque keeps him in that position, especially while the game remains goalless. Surely he's got to bring a striker on??
Those who are saddened by the thought of Pepe Reina having to play by himself on the pitch at half-time will be glad to hear that Fernando Llorente has just ran out and joined him.
Some more Ashish Sharma chat: "Italy substitutes Ogbonna, Di Natale, Abate and Giovinco either already know the half time team talk, or perhaps are too disruptive! As they are now running around the pitch with a ball. At least there's four of them!"
HALF-TIME PIRLO FACT: Andrea Pirlo has his own wine company, based near Brescia, called Pratum Coller. It produces over 40,000 bottles a year.
Here's some great input from Goal.com's man at the ground, Ashish Sharma: "Everyone clears off the pitch at half time bar one...Pep Reina . Like a kid let out onto a pitch he's running around with a ball kicking it and chasing after it. He reminds me of one of those school kids that has no-one to play with but loves football so much he goes and plays all by himself..." He's behind Casillas and Victor Valdes in the Spain goalkeeping pecking order, so it's probably the only chance he'll get to play in front of so many fans in this tournament.
HALF-TIME: SPAIN 0-0 ITALY. The Group C curtain-raiser at the Gdansk Arena remains goalless at half-time despite both sides having chances to break the deadlock. Thiago Motta came closest to getting on the scoresheet at the very end of the half, only to be thwarted by a fine save from Iker Casillas in the Spain goal. This one could go either way!
The referee blows the whistle to mark the end of the first half.
GREAT SAVE FROM CASILLAS!! Thiago Motta is the furthest man forward for Italy, and he very nearly breaks the deadlock with a firmly-struck header from 6 yards after a decent cross from Maggio on the right. Casillas did very well to push the ball away to safety to keep the scores level.
INIESTA SHOOTS OVER!! After controlling the ball with a brilliant first touch, Iniesta volleys the ball over Buffon's crossbar from around 10 yards. Spain are knocking at the door as this half edges to a close.
GOOD CHANCE FOR FABREGAS!! Spain's 'false nine' has a chance to get a shot away, but under pressure from Leonardo Bonucci, his eventual shot is deflected out for a corner to Spain. That is looped to the back post to Iniesta, who chips the ball towards Ramos inside the area, but he cannot get on the end of it, and the ball goes out for an Italy goal-kick.
Italy win a free-kick inside their own half after Sergio Busquets rakes down the shin of the imposing centre-back Chiellini.
As there is a lull in play for a second, it seems like a good opportunity to appreciate some nice words from our resident Spain expert Ben Hayward: "In competitive matches, not including the Olympics, Spain-Italy meetings have always been tight. The two teams met in the 1934 World Cup, when they drew 1-1 in Florence in a physical encounter, with the Azzurri coming out on top 1-0 in a replay played the following day. Then, in 1980, in Milan, the southern European sides tied 0-0 in the group stages of the European Championship. Eight years later, Gianluca Vialli's goal decided the Euro 88 group game, before Roberto Baggio netted the clincher in the 1994 World Cup quarter-final. Spain then came out on top in Euro 2008, thanks to a penalty shootout following a 0-0 draw in Vienna. Always even - and this game looks no different."
MATCH FACT: Italy are the only side Spain have played more than 4 times at Euros & World Cups but never beaten in regular time (D3 L3).
Yellow Card Mario Balotelli
Balotelli picks up a yellow card after being spoken to by the referee for the third time this half. He can't have many arguments with that, he was late on Sergio Ramos there.
NICE EFFORT FROM MARCHISIO!! The ball is curled in to the midfielder as he sits on the edge of the Spain box, and he fires a lovely first-time volley towards goal that Casillas has to be alert to, to deal with.
OOOOOOHH THAT'S A CONTROVERSIAL DECISION!! Cassano peppers Casillas' goal with a dipping effort that the Spain goalkeeper can only parry away. Balotelli stretches to retrieve the ball alongside Pique on the left side of the box and is adjudged to foul the centre-back, despite a replay showing it looks like a foul on the Italian attacker.
CASSANO CATCHES CASILLAS!! The A.C Milan attacker chases down the ball as Casillas toys with it inside his own area, and has every right to go for the ball. He is perhaps fortunate not to get a booking when he kicks Casillas and gets nowhere near the ball though. Classic Cassano.
Thiago Motta looks to have just bundled Xavi over on the edge of the Italy box, but the referee is having none of it, and waves play on. Motta got lucky there! That looked like a foul!
The resulting corner finds its way to that man Iniesta at the back post, and he sends a firm low effort zipping towards goal that Buffon gets down well to gather. The last 15 minutes have been all about Andres Iniesta here. He is running the show.
MORE LOVELY PLAY FROM INIESTA!! He's looked the brightest player for Spain so far, and he very nearly provides Fabregas with a good goalscoring opportunity, but for a decent defensive header from Chiellini over his own crossbar.
The three-way support inside the stadium of Spanish, Italian and Polish fans have just pulled off a fantastic Mexican wave. That takes a lot of effort from everyone in the stadium, so well done everyone in the Gdansk Arena. Good job.
There's some persistent fouling from Giorgio Chiellini on Xavi there. Spain, rightfully, have a free-kick 35 yards from Buffon's goal. That's a poor cross from Xavi though, and the ball is easily cleared to safety by the Italian defence.
The centre-back Bonucci does well to get in the right place at the right time to block Iniesta's right-foot shot after the Barcelona man had ghosted his way into the penalty area.
MATCH FACT: Spain have won 41 of their last 45 competitive games, drawing two and losing two.
CASSANO SHOOTS WIDE!! Claudio Marchisio slides a fine pass through to Cassano on the right-hand side of the penalty area, and he fires an instinctive low effort across Casillas towards the bottom left-hand corner. It goes the wrong side of the post though, and Spain have a goal-kick.
FABREGAS IS CAUGHT OFFSIDE!! Some wonderful play from Iniesta carves the Italy midfield apart, before slipping the ball to Silva on the edge of the area. With his back to goal, he flicks the ball to Fabregas out wide, but, despite being onside, the linesman on the far side thinks he is offside, and raises his flag to bring play back.
Xabi Alonso has just been shouting at Fabregas to push further forward, as the Barcelona man continues to drop back into midfield. He hasn't looked too comfortable in that 'false nine' role so far, although he did impress for Barcelona before Christmas in a similar position. Keep an eye on that one guys.
Balotelli controls the ball well inside the Spain half and brings his team-mate Cassano into play with a neat pass. Cassano lifts the ball over the top of Pique into the left-hand channel for the on-rushing Thiago Motta, but his run is brought crashing to the ground by a boot to the chest from Alvaro Arbeloa. Ouch.
Here's some nice insight from our man at the ground Ashish Sharma: "Oh what a fantastic moment!! Vicente del Bosque has just got off the bench and very politely asked a young ball girl to move back. The poor little thing is so taken in by being at the game she had planted herself right in front of the Spanish bench without realising it! I thought for a minute ..hang on Vicente you have a new addition to your coaching staff here!!"
GOOD SAVE FROM CASILLAS!! Pirlo strikes the set piece well, and it is curling towards the bottom left-hand corner, but Iker Casillas is quickly across to that side to palm the ball away. Alert goalkeeping there from the Spain man there, as that was creeping inside the post.
FREE-KICK TO ITALY!! 25 yards from goal for a foul by Ramos on Cassano. Pirlo lines it up...
CHANCE FOR SPAIN!! The Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai plays a good advantage for Spain after De Rossi had gone in late on Cesc Fabregas. Andres Iniesta picked the loose ball up before playing a quick pass into Silva on the right. He cuts inside onto his left foot, but his eventual shot is weak and easily dealt with by Buffon.
Speaking of Manchester City players... The only other City man on the pitch, Mario Balotelli, refuses to be outdone by David Silva, by having his own pot-shot at goal, from a similar distance. His effort is deflected wide for a corner to his side. But that is then easily cleared by Ramos.
A Spain corner isn't cleared by the Italy defence, and the ball eventually falls to Silva 25 yards from goal. He looks up before driving an effort a couple of yards wide of Gianluigi Buffon's right-hand post. Not a bad effort there from the Manchester City man.
FANTASTIC DEFENSIVE PLAY FROM DE ROSSI!! The makeshift centre-back puts in two brilliant challenges on first David Silva, and then Cesc Fabregas, as Spain work their way into the Italy penalty area for the first time in the game.
Italy have a corner. Perhaps an early opportunity for them to utilise the set piece prowess of Pirlo. After all that though, his in-swinging corner from the left is headed clear by Sergio Ramos.
Now Alba is pulled up for a foul that isn't, after stealing the ball from Christian Maggio on Italy's right. The officials are being a bit whistle-happy in these opening exchanges.
PIRLO WATCH: A delightful little backheel from the Juventus midfielder gets him out of a hole in his own half as he is surrounded by a posse of Spain attackers.
Balotelli looks surly for the first time this evening, after the ball runs out of play on the left, he looks down at the pitch in disgust. To be honest, I think he just overran the ball there.
FOUL ON ALBA!! Daniele De Rossi, Italy's auxiliary centre-back this evening is penalised for what looks like a brilliant challenge on Jordi Alba on the edge of the left-hand side of the penalty area. He's unfortunate there, that didn't look like a foul.
It's a bright start from Spain, as they keep the ball for the first minute or so, before the ball is launched forwards towards Cesc Fabregas by Gerard Pique. The Italian centre-back Leonardo Bonucci has things under control though, and boots the ball to safety.
Here we go, Spain get us underway...
Now Spain's anthem is bellowed out by their fans, with some of the players choosing to remain silent. TWO MINUTES TO GO...
The teams are out on the pitch at the Gdansk Arena, and we are being treated to the jaunty Italian national anthem first. You'll be relieved to hear that all XI Italy players are singing their hearts out.
Subs: Sirigu, De Sanctis, Ogbonna, Balzaretti, Abate, Barzagli, Montolivo, Diamanti, Nocerino, Di Natale, Borini, Giovinco.
Italy (3-5-2): Buffon; Bonucci, De Rossi, Chiellini; Maggio, Thiago Motta, Pirlo, Marchisio, Giaccherini; Cassano, Balotelli
Subs: Valdes, Reina, Albiol, Martinez, Juanfran, Cazorla, Navas, Pedro, Torres, Negredo, Mata, Llorente
Spain (4-3-3): Casillas; Arbeloa, Ramos, Pique, Alba; Alonso, Busquets, Xavi; Silva, Fabregas, Iniesta
TEN MINUTES TO GO!! As you can probably tell, I'm quite excited about this one. Let's remind ourselves of those starting XIs again.
Del Bosque’s squad appear to be playing happy families these days, and have put the animosity of 2011 behind them, with Real Madrid and Barcelona players getting along and combining for the greater good. Even Pique and Ramos are friends again! Things are not quite so rosy in the Italy camp, 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.
Never one to keep quiet when asked his opinion, Jose Mourinho has offered his thoughts ahead of kick-off: "In my opinion Spain is the favourite team for the tournament, but Italy in this important occasion is always a dangerous team." Cheers Jose.
More on that story that is no doubt going to run and run during the tournament. Ashish Sharma has been watching Torres in the Spain warm-up, and here's what he has seen: "He is not showing his undoubted disappointment at not being in the starting line up, participating in all the ball warm up exercises and interacting normally with the others on the pitch. But inside he must feel utterly heartbroken. Lets not forget four years ago he ended the last game of a Euro championship as a hero. Now he starts the first one of a new campaign on the bench." That is a bitter pill to swallow for the Chelsea man.
Mario Balotelli is leading a free-kick competition out on the pitch. No surprises there. They could do with him having one of his brilliant games tonight. He and Antonio Cassano are so unpredictable, anything could happen out there this evening. The Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said at the start of the tournament that "Mario actually asked to share a room with Antonio but we didn't want to overdo it." I love that!
It took thirty minutes for the Spain fans to bellow out a rendition of Vive Espana, but there it is, that's not going to be the last time we hear that one tonight, especially if things are going well for La Roja. The Italians meanwhile, remain quiet, perhaps they haven't heard that they're up against a team without any recognised strikers...
Del Bosque has been speaking in the pre-match press conference just now, and he's decided to focus on Andres Iniesta's role for Spain, rather than the man everyone is asking about, Cesc Fabregas. Ashish Sharma says, "Expect Cesc to drop deep on occassions allowing both Silva and Iniesta to come in off the wide areas. Cesc of course is a super link man. He has fed so many "cute" balls to Messi at Barcelona We can expect to see a lot of interaction from that front three."
Here's some input from our esteemed Spain expert Ben Hayward on Del Bosque's surprising choice of personnel this evening: "Other than the surprise inclusion of Cesc for Torres, the Spanish side picks itself really. Pique and Ramos are paired together at the back, with Arbeloa stepping in at right-back as he did for Real Madrid in 2011-12 and Barcelona target Jordi Alba now very much the first choice on the left of defence. The Busquets-Xabi Alonso tandem remains a questioned partnership in midfield as many believe it unnecessary for a team such as Spain to field two deep-lying players in front of the defence. Ahead of them, however, Xavi, Iniesta and Silva form a wonderful trident and with Cesc dropping deep, expect all of the midfielders to rotate positions and create scoring chances for each other. Italy's defence are in for a busy evening."
The stadium is just under half full half an hour before kick-off, and the Spain team are now out on the pitch in their sky-blue training tops. It's the La Roja faithful who are winning the battle of volume between the two sets of fans as we edge towards towards the start of the game.
The Italians are out on the pitch at the Gdansk Arena, and have run over to applaud their fans, who reciprocate the gesture, and some! The atmosphere is building here ahead of kick-off, so what better time than to have a delightfully colourful description of the stadium from our Goal.com's representative at the game, Ashish Sharma. “The Gdansk Arena is glistening in a hot sun, shining like a hive glowing in its amber colour. Like obedient drones lines of hundreds upon hundreds of colourful fans make their way into all the entrances. Spanish flags, the Italian tricolour and the ever present red and white of Poland blend into a in a cacophony of colour and sound." Lovely!
I feel a quick congratulations are in order for Italy's debutant this evening, Emmanuele Giaccherini. A brilliant stat from our deputy Italy expert: "The last time these two nations met at the European Championship back in 2008, Giaccherini was on loan at Pavia in the Italian third tier!" He's quite a way from the third tier of Italian football now! It does not come much bigger than this, making your international debut against the world and european champions. Butterflies anyone?
MORE ON FABREGAS' INCLUSION: Ashish Sharma tell me "I've just been sitting with some Spanish fans near the media tribune and showed them Spain's starting eleven. They laughed and said there was a printing mistake! Real surprise amongst the fans that Fabregas is playing up front as they keep seeing it....Obviously they are not Barcelona fans then." Vicente Del Bosque has certainly thrown a Fabregas-sized cat amongst the pigeons this evening.
ITALY TEAM NEWS: As was expected, Daniele De Rossi slots into the middle of a five-man defence for Cesare Prandelli’s side tonight, reprising a role he has excelled in at club level for Roma when necessary this season. The coach lines his side up in a defensive 3-5-2 formation, with Christian Maggio and the debutant Emmanuele Giaccherini bombarding down the flanks from deep. Keep an eye out for the evergreen Andrea Pirlo in central midfield, after he impressed in their 3-0 loss to Russia last week, and was pinpointed by a number of the Spain squad as being his side’s dangerman.
SPAIN TEAM NEWS: Aside from Fabregas starting there are no further surprises in Vicente Del Bosque’s starting XI. As Italy look to squeeze the narrow attacking sextet of Fabregas, Silva, Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets and Alonso, the role of the youngest player in that Spain starting XI becomes absolutely key. Jordi Alba has been flying for Valencia all season, and will be crucial in providing the european champions with width down the left-hand side.
Italy (3-5-2): Buffon; Bonucci, De Rossi, Chiellini; Maggio, Thiago Motta, Pirlo, Marchisio, Giaccherini; Cassano, Balotelli
Spain (4-3-3): Casillas; Arbeloa, Ramos, Pique, Alba; Alonso, Busquets, Xavi; Silva, Fabregas, Iniesta
Without further ado, here are both side's starting XIs, including that bombshell from Del Bosque:
Unsurprisingly that massive decision from Del Bosque has come as a shock to journalists at the Gdansk Arena, with Ashish Sharma telling me: “Spanish media in Gdansk are saying that Torres was awful in the last few training sessions. Really not looking very sharp at all. BUT none of them had read anything into this and most of them had him down to be the starter. He was described by them as being more of complete player up front than either Negredo or Llortente and hence they put him ahead of the list.” HOW WRONG THEY ALL WERE!!
FABREGAS STARTS OVER TORRES: The big news for Vicente Del Bosque’s side is that Cesc Fabregas starts upfont instead of Fernando Torres this evening, which raises yet more questions about Torres’ role in the squad, with Fabregas only just coming back from injury, and being ostensibly a midfielder. The decision means that Spain line up with five Barcelona players in their starting XI this evening! But as our man at the ground today Ashish Sharma says, “Cesc bless him is no Messi!!” Early signs suggested that Cesc Fabregas may be the player to fill the void left in Barcelona's frontline by David Villa's major injury in December, after the former Arsenal man bagged 14 goals in his first 24 games, but following that bright start he went on to score just one further goal in the remaining 29 matches he appeared in this season.
The big news here in Gdansk ahead of kick-off is...
Good afternoon and welcome to Goal.com’s LIVE commentary of the Euro 2012 Group C curtain-raiser between Spain and Italy in Gdansk. What a treat we have in store for you tonight, to be honest, I don’t think you could have asked for much more for one of the opening games of the competition: the world and european champions, up against an Italian side boasting the unpredictable talents of Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano, alongside some international war-horses in the form of Andrea Pirlo and Gianluigi Buffon.
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