The Final Hurdle
The Final Hurdle avatar

This Sunday Spain and Italy will go head-to-head in Kiev in the final of Euro 2012. For Spain it represents the chance to create history and win a third major honor in a row. For Italy it represents the chance for redemption, having been dumped out of the 2010 World Cup bottom of their group.

That early exit was the Azzurri’s biggest humiliation since 1966, when they were also dumped out of the World Cup after losing 1-0 to minnows North Korea. However, just two years later they were crowned champions of Europe, and on Sunday will be hoping history once again repeats itself.

Italy have surprised many with their attractive brand of soccer (Getty Images)

Traditionally known for playing the catenaccio or the “chain”—an ultra-defensive style of soccer—Italy was forced to rethink their style after being embarrassed at the 2010 World Cup. Cesare Prandelli took over as coach, and youth was injected into the national team, as the Azzurri attempted to break free of the “chain” and embark on a more attacking orientated brand of soccer. And it seems to have worked, with Italy unbeaten in 15 games under Prandelli and in with a chance to claim their second European Championship.

However, against Spain the Azzurri face their biggest and toughest challenge yet. La Furia Roja are the World and European Champions, and considered by many to be one of the best international teams in the history of the game. On Sunday they will be trying to create history by becoming the first team ever to win three major international honors in a row—though Uruguay might dispute that, having won the 1924 and 1928 Olympic title – the predecessor to the World Cup – before adding the inaugural World Cup itself in 1930.

Spain have not been at their imperious best during the competition, and had to navigate their way past Portugal via a penalty shoot-out in order to make it to the final. But they have shown their resilience and will to win throughout Euro 2012, and will be eager not to fall at the final hurdle in the quest to create history.

Spain are one game away from winning an unprecedented third major title in row (Getty Images)

The Italians may be spurred on by the knowledge, that excluding penalties, they are unbeaten against Spain in a competitive game since the 1920 Olympic games. That solitary victory could be ignored as ancient history, but it might also create some seeds of doubt in the minds of the Spanish—after Germany’s defeat at the hands of Italy, striker Miroslav Klose conceded, “perhaps the fact that we had never beaten Italy was in the back of our minds.”

Cesare Prandelli should welcome back defender Ignazio Abate, who is fit again after missing the semi-final against Germany with a thigh injury, with Leonardo Bonucci dropping to the bench. Strike duo Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli, who were both substituted in the semis with minor knocks, are both expected to start.

Vincente Del Bosque has a full squad to choose from, and his only conundrum is whether or not to start with a recognized forward or a” false number nine”, though Cesc Fabregas looks favorite to start, having started the group game between the two teams earlier in the tournament.

Soccer’s major tournaments have a tendency to disappoint, but Euro 2012 has exceeded everyone’s expectations, with great goals, exciting soccer, and entertaining games. Lets hope we are treated to one last exciting game before the curtain comes down.

MATCH FACTS

Head-to-head

• The only other European Championship meetings were group games in 1980 (a 0-0 draw) and 1988 (a 1-0 win for Italy), a 0-0 in the quarter- final of Euro 2008 which Spain won on Penalties, and the 1-1 group game draw earlier at Euro 2012.
• Seven of the last 10 matches between Spain and Italy have been 0-0 at half-time.
• This will be the fourth time that the European Championship final has provided a rematch of a group match. Greece won both encounters against Portugal in 2004, as did Germany versus the Czech Republic in 1996. The Dutch lost to the USSR in the opening game in 1988 but took revenge with victory in the final.

Spain

• Spain us unbeaten in 11 European Championship finals matches, a new record. Their last loss in the competition was the 1-0 reverse to Portugal at Euro 2004.
• They have kept nine consecutive clean sheets in knockout games at major tournaments.
• Iker Casillas has had to deal with just one shot on target in Spain’s two knockout games at Euro 2012 – that was a free-kick from France’s Yohan Cabaye. In total, the Spanish captain has made 12 saves so far – six of them against Italy in the opening game.
• Cesc Fabregas and Santi Cazorla could both make their eighth European Championship appearance as a substitute, which would be a new record.
• The last time Spain failed to win a match after opening the scoring was on 6 September 2006, when they lost 3-2 away to Northern Ireland in a Euro 2008 qualifier despite Xavi netting first.
• Vicente Del Bosque could become only the second coach to win the World Cup and European Championship, after West Germany’s Helmut Schön in 1972 and 1974

Italy

• The Azzurri have reached the final of eight World Cups or European Championships.
• Italy won their only European Championship in 1968, winning a final replay 2-0 against Yugoslavia at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico. The first match, held two days earlier, ended 1-1.
• The Azzurri also reached the final of Euro 2000, losing 2-1 to France, for whom David Trezeguet scored a golden goal.
• Cesare Prandelli’s men have won only two of their last eight games (excluding shoot-outs).
• The Italians have been involved in eight goalless draws at European Championship finals – more than any other side.
• Uefa statistics show Italy have attempted 97 shots (including blocked efforts), more than any other side at Euro 2012.

About Anthony Ta

Anthony Ta is a writer for the GotSoccer Magazine, specializing in Premier League, Champions League and the Euros.
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