Tempers are bound to flare when the reigning World Cup and European champions, Spain take on the 2006 World Cup champions Italy in the opening fixture of Group C at the PGE Arena in Gdansk, Poland. The La Furia Roja are unsurprisingly one of the firm favorites to win the tournament and Italy, who have had their fair share of problems, will face an uphill task. The two sides met in the quarter-finals of the Euro 2008 where after a drab 0-0 scoreline, the match was decided on penalties, with Cesc Fabregas converting the decisive penalty.
Both sides would like to begin their campaign with a victory and with the two other teams in the group – Republic of Ireland and Croatia being tricky opponents – a win will be beneficial for either side to begin their campaign on a positive note.
Even without star striker, David Villa and Captain Carles Puyol, the trickery and agility in the armory of the Spaniards will prove tough to overcome for their opponents. They entered the final stage of the tournament following a 100% record in the qualifying stages.
Coach Vicente Del Bosque faces problem of aplenty in the midfield with Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets, David Silva, Juan Mata and Jesus Navas competing to make it to the starting XI. In the absence of all time leading goalscorer Villa, Del Bosque will have a tough time choosing either an out-of-form Fernando Torres or Athletic Bilbao’s Fernando Llorente. Sergio Ramos will start in the heart of defence alongside Gerard Pique, with Jordi Alba and Alvaro Arbeloa on each wingback.
The Spaniards are undefeated in 14 successive competitive matches since the shock 1-0 defeat to Switzerland in their first World Cup 2010 group game and are expected to extend their streak.
Cesare Prandelli’s side enter the tournament following a shocking display in the warm up matches. They lost three matches in a row, without scoring even once. Interestingly, Italy’s last goal was scored against Poland in a 2-0 victory last November. The Azzurris have also been rocked by a match-fixing scandal that led to the omission of left back Domenico Criscito from the squad. Italy will also be without the services of defender, Andrea Barzagli who picked up a calf injury against Russia. Lack of options at the back might force Pandelli to start with a three-man backline.
Midfielder Thiago Motta insisted in an earlier interview that his side are willing to play dirty in order to scrape past the Spanish challenge and given the circumstances, they just might have to play a patient game like Chelsea did in the final stages of the Champions League. With Andrea Pirlo recovering in time, the midfield trio of him, De Rossi and Motta will provide much needed resilience to the Spanish flair. Nocerino, Marchisio and Montolivo will provide a backup.
Up front, Prandelli has to choose between Di Natalie, Balotelli, Cassano, Borini and Giovinco. Italy have tried and failed with a three-man attack and might start with a 4-3-1-2 with Montolivo playing in the middle, behind the two strikers. Buffon is a certainty between the posts.
Head to Head:
The two sides have faced each other 25 times, with Italy holding a narrow edge of eight wins to seven. 10 matches ended in a draw. The Azzurris surprisingly emerged victorious when the two sides last met in a friendly in Bari, last August.
3rd June, 2012: Spain 1-0 China (friendly)
30th May, 2012: Spain 4-1 Korea (friendly)
26th May, 2012: Spain 2-0 Serbia (friendly)
29th Feb, 2012: Spain 5-0 Venezuela (friendly)
15th Nov, 2011: Costa Rica 2-2 Spain (friendly)
1st June, 2012: Italy 0-3 Russia (friendly)
29th Feb, 2011: Italy 0-1 USA (friendly)
15th Nov, 2011: Italy 0-1 Uruguay (friendly)
11th Nov, 2011: Italy 2-0 Poland (friendly)
7th Oct, 2011: Serbia 1-1 Italy (Euro Qualifiers)
Spain 4-2-3-1: Casillas; Arbeloa, Ramos, Pique, Alba; Alonso, Busquets; Silva, Xavi, Iniesta; Llorente
Italy 4-3-1-2: Buffon; Maggio, Chiellini, Bonucci, Balzaretti; De Rossi, Pirlo, Motta; Montolivo; Di Natalie, Balotelli
Spain 1-1 Italy
Both sides have an injury marred defence and a relatively out of form attack. Their strength lies in the midfield. The creativity of Spain against the sturdiness of Italy. However, in Andrea Pirlo, Italy have a complete player who can attack and defend with equal prowess.