Italian perspective: Paolo Bandini
So, here we are again. Italy end their tournament as they began it – with a fixture against the reigning world and European champions. That the Azzurri should be afforded a second crack at Vicente del Bosque’s all-conquering side feels fitting: they are, after all, the only team to have scored against Vicente del Bosque’s side in the entire tournament. More than that, they are perhaps the only ones to have attempted to stand up to Spain and play them at their own game.
Since then much has changed for Italy, but most notably their formation - the manager Cesare Prandelli abandoning the 3-5-2 with which he began the tournament and returning to his preferred 4-3-1-2. There is much speculation over whether he would consider returning to a system that seemed to work well against Spain last time around, but it should not be forgotten that Italy also beat Spain 2-1 in a friendly last August using the latter tactic.
Either way Italy will at least attempt to attack Spain, rather than parking the bus as others have sought to do. Prandelli set his stall out before the semi-final against Germany when stating that he would rather concede a goal on the counter than have his team suffer through 90 minutes on the edge of their own box. The same will apply here, though he has acknowledged that the difficulty with Spain is getting the ball in the first place.
He should at least have a full squad to choose from – with Antonio Cassano available for selection despite a minor knee complaint and Daniele De Rossi soldiering on despite his sciatic nerve problem. Cassano and Balotelli should start together up front, but after Antonio Di Natale’s strike in the opening game, Spain know they must be wary too of Italy’s options off the bench.
Score prediction: Italy 1-1 Spain (after 90 minutes)
The draw at 3.15; Antonio Cassano to score at 5.00; Daniele De Rossi to get a card at 2.70.
Spanish perspective: Paul Wilkes
Cesc Fàbregas scored the winning penalty against Portugal on Wednesday evening, setting up a date with destiny – as well as a repeat of the Group C opener – for the Spanish. The fine margins of football were laid bare once again as Bruno Alves crashed one against the crossbar, before Cesc struck his effort against the inside of the post before it rebounded in. All this was preceded by Sergio Ramos’ decision to follow in the footsteps of Andrea Pirlo and score with a ‘Panenka’ chip.
Why didn’t Ronaldo take a penalty? He waited for his moment: the deciding kick, the ultimate pressure, his chance to show Spain and the World who was number one. It never came. Marca’s big headline was “Spain's star shines bright," but Portugal earnt much admiration; Paulo Bento’s pressing tactics knocked Spain out of their stride and highlighted a considerable amount of vulnerability. It forced a more open and high-tempo game, a welcome change from the usual parking of the bus.
Álvaro Negredo will likely lose his place, after being comfortably dealt with by Pepe and Bruno Alves. The big question for Vicente Del Bosque is this: does he opt for a striker or not? Does he go for the forward that scored the Euro 2008 final winner in Vienna or the player that scored the penalty to get them to the final this time around? Both Fernando Torres and Cesc Fàbregas have two goals to their names in the tournament so far, yet the former didn’t even make the pitch in Donetsk.
These players have become accustomed to making history, whether at club level or for the national team. The semi-final win over Portugal meant they became the first team for 16 years to reach consecutive European Championship finals. Captain Iker Casillas became the first player to record 100 victories in international football. Three successive major tournament wins would go a long way to confirming Spain’s status as the greatest international team ever.
Score prediction: Spain 2-0 Italy
Spain to win in 90 minutes at 2.15; Cesc Fàbregas first goalscorer at 8.50; Spain clean sheet at 2.25.