Euro 2012 final: Strengths and weaknesses
Spain have so many strengths but the most obvious one is their ability to completely control matches with their possession-based passing game.
Over the course of the tournament they have the highest average possession of any team at 67%, as well as the highest pass accuracy at 88%.
It is seen primarily as an offensive tactic but it’s an efficient defensive one too; they haven’t conceded in 419 minutes – since Antonio Di Natale gave Italy the lead in Gdansk on June 10. Di Natale’s goal is also the only one they’ve conceded in the finals.
In fact, for a team with such attacking wealth, Spain’s defence has probably seen them through to the final.
Andres Iniesta (pictured) will be a key figure in this game. He, out of all the Spanish players, is given the most freedom.
He starts in a left forward position but will probably drift more centrally in order to help create a 4 v 4 in midfield. He will also look to combine with Jordi Alba who will be available on the overlap.
Spain coach, Vicente del Bosque also has the element of surprise on his side - no one is sure who will play up front. It is likely to be either Cesc Fabregas or Fernando Torres after Alvaro Negredo’s poor display against Portugal.
But Giorgio Chiellini et al won’t know for sure until an hour or so before kick off and that may unsettle their preparation. Who knows, maybe del Bosque will surprise us all and play Fernando Llorente.
Overall, though, Spain’s wonderful cohesion, commitment to a playing philosophy and consistent squad selection gives them a fluidity rarely seen at international level and an important advantage.
This is, of course, in no small part down to the fact that there are six Real Madrid players and seven Barcelona players (not including Alba who has just signed for the Catalans) in the 23-man squad.
It seems folly, but it’s possible Spain’s only weakness is that del Bosque has too much attacking talent and he isn’t sure which one best serves his team.
Fabregas and Torres had played two games each in the lead up to the semi-final, one as a 'false nine' and one as a traditional number nine, suggesting that del Bosque simply chose his forward depending on whether the opposition would play a deep line or a high line.
But then, in the semi-final he gave Negredo a start, having played just one minute in the tournament previously.
It is possible this is still the case and Negredo was seen as a like-for-like replacement for Torres, who despite having scored two goals, still looks out of sorts. He has been caught offside six times, the most in the tournament so far.
It could be a cause of unrest for the squad, having to alter the way they play so often. As mentioned before, it also suggests that Del Bosque isn’t sure of the right way to play, which could filter down to the players, potentially undermining him.
It will be a fascinating tactical battle in the middle of the pitch on Sunday.
Although Cesare Prandelli played Italy in a 3-5-2 formation when they met Spain in the opening game of the group stages, it is thought he will stick with the midfield diamond that provides them with an extra midfielder.
It is within the midfield diamond that Italy are strongest. It is a midfield that goes against relative convention. Andrea Pirlo, Italy’s most creative player and the star of the tournament, sits at the base of the diamond – a place usually reserved for a defensive player.
Riccardo Montolivo will most likely be picked ahead of Antonio Nocerino and Thiago Motta at the top of the diamond. He was excellent against Germany and rather than creating chances for the strikers (he can, of course, do this too) his primary responsibility will be to harry the deepest Spanish player (Sergio Busquets or Xabi Alonso) in an effort to disturb Spain’s passing rhythm.
Daniele De Rossi and Claudio Marchisio shuttle along either side of Pirlo and Montolivo and provide support both in attack and defence.
The midfield diamond and the sparkling Pirlo
But what makes this midfield so dangerous is that they are all so comfortable in possession and can rotate position at will. So if Xavi starts pressing too much on Pirlo, he can move further forward into space and allow De Rossi to drop in deep.
Unusually for Spain, they will be outnumbered in the midfield and whoever dominates this battle will have a huge advantage in the game.
Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli, are good friends off the pitch and they have developed a close understanding on the pitch in this tournament. They both look to run the channels and stretch the opposition's central defence.
Indeed, this worked perfectly against Germany, Cassano picked the ball up in the left channel, pulling Hummels out of position, and crossed for Balotelli to score. For this reason Spain full backs, Alvaro Arbeloa and Alba will have to be weary about the space they leave when they move forward.
Italy’s narrowness in the central midfield causes a weakness on the wide areas. The full backs have no protection and for that reason they are vulnerable.
Jordi Alba has arguably been one of Spain’s best players in the tournament and he could cause a lot of damage with Iniesta on the left hand side by doubling up on Ignazio Abate, who isn’t particularly strong defensively.
To compensate for this Prandelli will look for his midfield to move laterally as a unit, depending on which side the ball is on. However, Spain are a team full of excellent passers and they could quickly switch the play and exploit the space the Italian midfield vacates.
Torres caused the Italians all sorts of problems when he came on in their group game. If he starts, he will look to run in behind the Italian central defence in an effort to exploit their relative lack of pace.
By Nathan Holmes