Spain v Italy Euro 2012 final preview

30 enthralling games have been played over the last few weeks, giving us 72 goals, tonight the winners of Euro 2012 will be crowned in Kiev’s Olympic Stadium as Spain and Italy go head-to-head.

Spain, who lifted the World Cup in South Africa in 2010, are defending the title of European champions they claimed four years ago and can become the first nation to retain the Henri Delaunay Trophy.

Italy’s last major tournament success came in the 2006 World Cup in Germany, a competition they have won four times, but they have secured European glory on just one previous occasion, back in 1968.

Sunday’s showdown will be a repeat of the opening game of Group C in Gdansk on 10th June, when Antonio Di Natale stepped off the bench to give Italy the lead just after the hour mark only for Cesc Fabregas to grab a swift leveller for Vicente del Bosque’s side.

The head-to-head record of the two nations makes for interesting reading, as from 30 meetings in both competitive and friendly action Italy have won 10, Spain eight, with 12 matches drawn.

But if you delve a little deeper, it emerges that Spain’s last competitive victory over Italy came in their first-ever meeting in the 1920 Olympic Games, with their seven successes since that date all from friendly fixtures.

It should be noted that the Iberian outfit were victorious on penalties against Italy in Euro 2008 after their quarter-final contest ended 0-0 after 120 minutes, but the record books class this as a draw.

Having swept all before them at international level in recent times, Spain entered Euro 2012 as the favourites, a standing they have retained heading into the final despite a perception that they have not hit the heights of previous years.

The absence of star striker David Villa through injury has doubtless hampered Del Bosque’s selection, with Barcelona’s former Arsenal midfielder Fabregas employed as the focal point of the attack in the group clash with Italy and against France in the quarter-finals.

Fernando Torres remained on the bench throughout the tense semi-final success over Portugal on penalties, with his only goals in the tournament coming in the rout of Republic of Ireland. And Alvaro Negredo started the last-four contest before being replaced by Fabregas early in the second period.

For all the talk of ‘false nines’ in the Spain camp, Italy have anything but leading their line, with Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli firing the Azzurri through to the final with a brace in their unexpected semi-final triumph over much-fancied Germany.

Balotelli now has three goals to his name for the tournament and if he finds the net in the final he is likely to claim the Golden Boot outright, with the equally combustible Antonio Cassano expected to partner him up front for Cesare Prandelli’s side.

Andrea Pirlo is undoubtedly the man to watch in Italy’s midfield, with his assured control and incisive passing against both England and Germany, not to mention his outrageously composed penalty in the quarter-final, a joy to behold.

But Spain are hardly short of players who cherish possession and in Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Xabi Alonso and David Silva they have a quartet capable of picking their way through the most tightly locked of defences.

For all their much-lauded attacking talent, Del Bosque’s men are also superb at the back, with a record of nine successive clean sheets in major tournament knockout games, while Iker Casillas has not conceded since being beaten by Di Natale back in early June, a run of 419 minutes.

Christian Maggio is available to Prandelli after missing the victory over Germany through suspension, while fellow defender Ignazio Abate will come back into contention for selection following his absence from the last four success due to muscle fatigue.