European and world champions, Spain are definitely one of the sides tipped to win the 14th UEFA European Championship. In Group C of the final stage alongside Italy, the Republic of Ireland and Croatia, Vicente del Bosque’s men are a strong bet to make it through the quarter-finals. But with David Villa and Carles Puyol the big name absentees, La Roja are deprived of two of their key players. A win over the Azzurri would constitute a huge boost for Spain should the side want to end the group stages in pole position. The title holders will be buoyed by the fact that they edged Italy in the quarter-finals on their way to Euro 2008 glory, as well as having been imperious in their last 14 competitive games, ever since their 1-0 loss to Switzerland in the 2010 World Cup opener. That does not mean that Spain will take Italy lightly, according to Barcelona defender Gerard Pique, who singled out more than one important player for the 2006 World Cup winners. “Players like Mario Balotelli can make you win a match, and players like Andrea Pirlo can make you win a tournament,” said the centre back of the recent Premier League and Serie A winning duo. Winning Formula Despite still being without a competitive loss, Cesare Prandelli’s Italy are in hot water after failing to win their last three fixtures. It has become evident in recent times that the four-time world champions lack a true football identity, as they have tested one system after another, but to no avail. Pitted against Spain, they have little time to come up with a strategy to overcome the tournament’s team-to-beat. It has become a bit of a habit to see Italy involved in a big scandal before the start of every major tournament. The most recent match-fixing controversy saw Domenico Criscito pull out of the squad as he attempts to clear his name, while other members have been involved as well such as Leonardo Bonucci. Criscito’s absence saw Federico Balzaretti take his spot, but the Palermo man is not as talented as the man he replaces. Furthermore, only Claudio Marchisio, Antonio Nocerino and Andrea Pirlo had great seasons at club level, with names such as Daniele De Rossi and Riccardo Montolivo not at the required level. Nonetheless, former Italy boss Roberto Donadoni believes that his nation can fight fire with fire against the Spaniards. “We can beat Xavi, Andres Iniesta and co. by attacking. The friendly last August [where Italy beat Spain 2-1, ed.] showed that Spain suffer when you attack them,” said Donadoni. Recent form Spain: Spain 2-0 Serbia (26/05; Friendly) Spain 4-1 South Korea (30/05; Friendly) Spain 1-0 China (03/06; Friendly) Italy: Italy 0-1 Uruguay (15/11; Friendly) Italy 0-1 United States (29/05; Friendly) Italy 0-3 Russia (01/06; Friendly) Players to watch Spain – Gerard Pique : Pique will partner Sergio Ramos in the centre of defence as Puyol misses the tournament. The Masia product has not had the best of seasons as he fell out with Josep Guardiola as news of his nightlife emerged. However, he still remains one of the best centre backs in the game, and forging a solid partnership with Ramos will be key for Spain. Italy – Andrea Pirlo : Pirlo was a vital performer six years ago in Germany and will need to be so again should Italy want to raise the trophy. The AC Milan legend has been phenomenal since his summer transfer to Juventus, being one of the main reasons behind the Bianconeri’s unbeaten Serie A march. Dictating the midfield will be essential against a side that relishes possession. Match Prediction Spain do not appear to be as at ease as they usually are going into this tournament and that could be in favour of a weakened Italian side. The holders will need to make a statement in their opening game, but they do not seem to be 100% ready to go at the moment. Expect the game to end with a 1-1 draw, leaving much to play for. For the very best odds on Spain v Italy and all Euro 2012 matches, make sure you visit TXODDS.com.
Euro 2012 Group C: Spain v Italy Match Preview