Spain's national soccer players attend a training session at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk, June 22, 2012. Spain will play its quarter-final of the Euro 2012 soccer championships against France in Donetsk on June 23. (Photo : REUTERS/Juan Medina)
And so it ends. The Euro Cup 2012 has had a plethora of surprises: Russia and Netherlands eliminated in the first round and neither co-host being able to make it out of the group stage amongst others. However, the biggest surprise of all is the emergence of Italy.
Italy will play the role of underdogs as defending champion Spain looks to make history and become the first team to win three major championships in a row.
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In 2008, Spain changed its image with a victory over mighty Germany in the final of the Euro Cup. They then followed it up with a victory in the 2010 World Cup and established themselves as one of the greatest teams of all time. They now have the opportunity to write themselves into the history books as the very best with a victory over Italy, an opponent they have never defeated in regulation of a tournament. However, they can take solace in the fact that they beat Italy in penalties on route to their 2008 triumph and the fact that they are the heavy favorites of this match.
They have been madly inconsistent in this tournament; more a reflection of other teams employing solid strategies to take them down than an indication of poor play from the Spanish side.
Look for them to employ a patient slow passing game against an Italian side that needs to employ the counter as often as possible to keep striker Mario Balotelli involved. Balotelli has already shown that the less he is involved in the play, the worse he plays.
Italy did the unexpected by shutting down Germany, the team largely expected to win the entire tournament. They played extremely well against Spain in their respective first matches and will look to employ that same asphyxiating defensive system on the defending champs in this match as well. Andrea Pirlo and Balotelli must be the catalysts and will be relied heavily on to carve out some opportunities against a Spanish side that rarely gives them. Thus far in the tournament, they have created more opportunities against the Spaniards than any other team in the tournament.
Player to Watch for Spain:David Silva. Read More HERE.
Player to Watch for Italy: Mario Balotelli. Read More HERE.
They command tempo, minimize Andrea Pirlo and Mario Balotelli's involvement in the play, and remind themselves that they have been here before and triumphed both times. They have been a bit inconsistent in employing the tiki taka play against aggressive defenses and must adjust to what will likely be an Italian onslaught of pressure. Controlling possession and tempo means less ball control for Pirlo and Balotelli. The false striker formation has paid huger dividends for the Spanish as the Spanish strikers have proven madly inconsistent throughout the tournament. Coach Vicente del Bosque needs to take advantage of the depth he possesses both on the field and on the bench.
They make like Portugal and pressure Spain's midfield like crazy. Only then will they be able to force Spain into mistakes and give Andrea Pirlo the space and time to create opportunities for Antonio Cassano and Balotelli. Italy will not control possession as they did against England.
More Previews and Coverage of the Euro Cup 2012 Final
Prediction: Spain makes history with their trademark 1-0 win. Italy will play an aggressive style, but Spain will maintain its calm and invoke their past exploits to win a tight drawn out match that will be decided in the waning moments.
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