Sunday’s final: Spain vs. Italy – 2:45 p.m.
Spain (+110), Italy (+260), Draw (+240)
The final for the 2012 European Championship will be a rematch between Italy and Spain.
Spain will be gunning for history, looking to become the first team to win three straight major tournaments. On the other side, Italy will be playing for its first Euro title since 1968 (although it has won two World Cups since then).
The pair drew 1-1 in their Group C opener, a result that provided different reactions among fanbases. Italians were excited that their new possession-based style modeled after Spain proved to be a rousing success, as the Azzurri more than held their own. The aura of Spanish invincibility was knocked down a peg, although they have yet to lose on their way to the final.
La Roja rebounded with a resounding 4-0 win over Ireland, but the offensive issues returned in a last-minute 1-0 win over Croatia. Spain met France in the quarterfinals and completely overwhelmed the French offense with a 2-0 victory. An early goal allowed Spain to go into an even-more-defensive mode, and France could muster nothing offensively, recording just four shots, one of which was on goal. A late penalty kick goal secured the Spanish win.
In the semifinal, Spain met its Iberian Peninsula rival Portugal. Given both teams’ defensive styles, it wasn’t a shocker this one went to PKs. But Portugal had more chances in regulation time. A decision to hold Cristiano Ronaldo for the last kick proved costly for the Portuguese, as he never got his chance and Spain advanced 4-2.
Italy followed up the draw against Spain with a disappointing 1-1 draw against Croatia. Its destiny was out of its hands, but Croatia’s loss to Spain and Italy’s 2-0 win over Ireland sent the Italians to the knockout stages.
Italy’s quarterfinal match was against England, and the Azzurri dominated all facets of the game. Italy recorded 35 shots, including 20 on goal, but couldn’t finish their chances. England was able to hold on for PKs, where Italy staged a 4-2 comeback win.
They met powerhouse Germany in the semifinal and finally cashed in on their chances. Mario Balotelli scored two brilliant first-half goals and held on for the win, despite a PK goal for Germany in the final minutes. The Germans were favored to reach the final, behind only Spain, but bowed out after a spectacular performance from Balotelli and Co.
Italy entered the tournament amid a(nother) match-fixing scandal back home. In 2006, they put a scandal behind them and won the World Cup. Now, they’re one win from doing the same thing at Euro 2012.
Spain shed its reputation as a constant underachiever with their Euro 2008 championship. But after a win at the 2010 World Cup, they’re on the cusp of becoming the greatest soccer team of all-time.
As we saw in the first game, this is going to be a battle of possession. It also will be a change in historical reputations. For decades, Italy was a team built on defense and a timely goal or PK win. Spain’s absence of a striker for much of the tournament makes them the boring team. The idea of Italy being the exciting team, and therefore drawing support of many neutrals, is definitely a new one.
Given Italy’s recent attacking success, don’t be surprised if Spain goes back to its 4-6-0 formation, opting to clog up the midfield even more. Germany’s defense was suspect, Spain’s is not. The Italians are going to have a much more difficult time getting chances.
Spain tries to pass opponents to death, but Italy’s defense has been stifling. They haven’t allowed a goal in live play since their second group game. Italy coach Cesare Prandelli has made all the right adjustments in this tournament.
This also will be a matchup between two of the world’s best goalkeepers in Gigi Buffon for Italy and Spain’s Iker Casillas. Italy will be playing its third game in just over a week, but they’re riding a wave of momentum and confidence. However, Spain must be pretty excited that it doesn’t have to face Germany. Andrea Pirlo and David Silva will be key midfielders for both teams.
There aren’t going to be many chances in this one, but while Spain will try to tire out the Italians en route to history, I see a goal from the Azzurri. Spain has been too shaky in this tournament. Balotelli said he’d only celebrate a goal if it won the tournament. Maybe he’ll follow through.
Prediction: Spain 0-1 Italy