Maradona warns Spain: Never count Italy out

The Argentina legend is confident Italy can challenge the heavily-favoured La Roja despite being hit by a number of problems including several key players missing in defence
Diego Maradona has warned Spain against complacency as they get ready to take on much-maligned Italy this Sunday in their opening Euro 2012 Group C game.

The Al Wasl coach is aware that the Azzurri enter the competition without the best of preparations, having lost their last two friendly games to the United States and Russia, and rocked by the match-fixing scandal that affected some of their key players in the past weeks.

Despite Cesare Prandelli expected to field a makeshift defence against the holding European and world champions, Maradona warned that Italy can never be written off.

"Cesare Prandelli is well aware of the calibre of opposition he is facing," Maradona wrote in the Indian Times.

"The Spanish are heavily favoured, but so was Argentina when I played the Azzurri at the World Cup in 1982 and we lost, so never count the Italians out.

"Italy have lost their last two friendly games to the United States and Russia, and so must modify their defence to deal with Xavi, Iniesta and friends," he added. "In defence Prandelli is struggling with injured Juve captain Giorgio Chiellini at left back, Leonardo Bonucci will be playing right back, and Roman midfielder Daniele de Rossi might actually have to play centre-back."

Bonucci, implicated in the match-fixing scandal that took Italian football by storm last month, has been retained in Italy's squad despite Domenico Criscito being expelled while being investigated. The loss of the Zenit full-back means Prandelli will likely switch his system to a 3-5-2 due to a shortage of defenders and to contain the Spanish midfield.

"The Italians lack consistency in defence, and cohesion up front. Their strength is their midfield where Andrea Pirlo can create magic at any time. The Italians must try to contain their ball possession with their own midfield, and hope that the Pirlo-Balotelli combination will give Italy a goal at some point."

Italy's Group C clash against Spain on Sunday kicks off at 18:00CET.