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Euro 2012 Match Report: Italy 1-1 Spain

By Rob
Sunday 10th June 2012
The first clash between two of Europe's footballing heavyweights at Euro 2012 ended all square, as Italy and reigning champions Spain played out a 1-1 draw.

Spain made the odd decision to start the match without a recognised striker, with Cesc Fabregas leading the line despite Fernando Torres, in-form Fernando Llorente and Alvaro Negredo all available for selection. Italy selected the unpredictable Mario Balotelli alongside Antonio Cassano, leaving prolific striker Antonio Di Natale on the bench.

The first half offered little in real excitement, but the Italians looked unusually offensive and appeared to be the side most likely to break the deadlock. Cassano got free at the back post and dragged his shot wide across the goal, agonisingly out of the reach of Balotelli, then midfielder Claudio Marchisio stung the fingertips of Iker Casillas with a rasping driven shot.

Spain did show some threat, but a clinical final ball was sadly lacking as the world champions' tiki-taka football and excess of midfielders saw them try to pass their way to goal. This nearly cost them as Italy should have got their noses in front shortly before half-time. Balotelli showed good skill on the left wing and delivered a perfect cross to pick out the unmarked Thiago Motta in the box, but the Brazilian-born midfielder's header went straight at Casillas.

The second half saw the game come a little more to life, and Balotelli should have scored shortly after the break. Finding himself clean through on goal the Man City striker dwelled painfully on the ball allowing Sergio Ramos to get back and clear the ball from danger.

Balotelli, who had been booked in the first half, was soon withdrawn and replaced by di Natale, who quickly showed manager Cesare Prandelli why he should have started the match. Veteran midfielder Andrea Pirlo, who still looks a top class player despite his advancing age, got free of Xavi and played the ball into Di Natale on the left of the penalty area. The striker finished superbly with a curling shot that beat Casillas and nestled into the far corner of the net.

Spain didn't let the goal bother them and bounced back instantly with an equaliser from Fabregas. Andres Iniesta and David Silva combined nicely to set Fabregas clean through on goal and poked the ball underneath the advancing Gianluigi Buffon.

The goal seemed to wake Spain up, and they seemed the more likely winner as the game wore on. The Spanish finally introduced a striker with 20 minutes to go in the form of Torres, who should have seized all three points for his team. Shortly after coming on Torres was played through on goal and tried to go around Buffon when he really ought to have shot, then chipping a shot narrowly over the bar.

Di Natale was also guilty of wasting a good opportunity as the Italians relied on counter attacks to try and steal the victory, the striker latched onto a cross at the far post but his attempt drifted tamely wide.

And the Italians almost grabbed a win at the death, as Marchisio combined with Di Natale but the midfielder's shot again went straight at Casillas, who saved comfortably.

A draw was probably the correct result but the Italians will take heart from a composed display in a match that they could have well have won. Spain looked like a shadow of the team that won the Euros four years ago and the World Cup two years ago, while the tactic of playing six midfielders seems to have been a bit of a fail by Vicente del Bosque.

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