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Spain v Italy - Euro 2012 final preview

EURO 2012 FINAL - Sunday 1st July

SPAIN v ITALY 

Kick-off 19:45 BST

This is Italy's biggest match since their World Cup triumph in 2006.

Star defender Ignazio Abate is fit for the game having missed the semi-final through injury and despite a late scare, the hero from that match against Germany, Mario Balotelli, has overcome a thigh strain to play in the biggest match of his career so far.

Having suffered humiliation at the hands of Slovakia in 2010, Italy underwent a major restructuring with many of the old guard retiring. Players who hadn't been given much of an international chance were brought into the fold.

Abate and Balotelli were both part of this group and throughout this tournament have shown that perhaps they should have been selected sooner.

After the 1966 World Cup - long considered Italy's greatest failiure - the players were pelted with rotten tomatoes upon their return. Two years later they won the Euro 68 title on home soil.

Dark horses

They have been one of the dark horses of the tournament and Spain's Vicente del Bosque even went so far as to say: "Don't be surprised if we meet them again in the final".

Spain haven't shined in this tournament, but they have ground out results. That is the mark of true champions, and they have the players capable of breaking down the Italian's defence and really sticking it to them.

Xavi, Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, Iker Casillas - The list of players that can change games at the Spaniards disposal is mind blowing. They are European and World champions for a reason.

No team has ever won three major tournaments in a row, and that would be a fitting distinction for a Spanish side filled with such stars and that has proven itself as one of the best footballing sides in history.

La Roja will be looking to continue their run of 11 games without losing. They have also not conceded in their previous nine knock-out games. On top of these formidable records, they have only had to deal with 12 shots on target at Euro 2012, with six of them coming against Italy in the first group game.

History favours Italy

History is on the side of the Italians. Of the 31 matches these two have played out, 10 were Italian wins, nine were Spanish victories and a further 12 matches ended as draws.

There is a wealth of experience on the field. The two keepers - Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon - have 255 caps between them. Spain have a total of 1086 caps, or 47 each, while Italy have a relatively inexperienced total of 624, or roughly 27 caps each.

Italy are appearing in their eighth major tournament final while Spain are appearing in their third consecutive final. The historical powerhouse and the contemporary powerhouse will be facing off in what will most likely be a stoic affair, but towards the end of the match we will see mistakes being made, and it is all down to who will blink first.

Penalties? Spain have won just over half of theirs, Italy have lost just over half of theirs. Both sides have won a shootout this year, so it will be interesting to see should one be required.

Andrea Pirlo, who has recieved so much praise during this tournament for his work rate and ability, will most likely bow out soon, if not straight after the competition, then soon after. What a way this would be to end his glittering national team career.

SPAIN starting 11: Casillas, Arbeloa, Pique, Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba, Xavi, Busquets, Alonso, Silva, Fabregas, Iniesta.

ITALY starting 11: Buffon, Abate, Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini, Pirlo, Marchisio, Montolivo, De Rossi, Balotelli, Cassano.

By Peter Duke

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