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Euro 2012: Italy Upset the Odds in a 1-1 Draw Against Spain

GDANSK, POLAND - JUNE 10:  Antonio Di Natale of Italy celebrates scoring their first goal during the UEFA EURO 2012 group C match between Spain and Italy at The Municipal Stadium on June 10, 2012 in Gdansk, Poland.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Stephen FennellCorrespondent IJune 10, 2012

There weren't too many pre-tournament shocks associated with the Spanish camp in the build-up to Euro 2012.

The reigning World and European champions went quietly about their business without any fuss or whisperings, determined to add to a recently bulging trophy cabinet.

Everything was turned on its head with their team announcement for their opening Group C clash against 2006 World Cup winners Italy.

A cloudy, overcast day in Gdansk played host to a striker-less Spanish side, captained by Iker Casillas, against an Italian starting 11 that contained six Juventus players.

With Spain quietly waiting in the shadows, plotting another international tournament victory, the Italian nation was rocked by another spate of match-fixing allegations.

Football has a history of teams becoming galvanised by tumultuous preparations and Arena Gdansk bore witness to exactly that.

From the first whistle, Italy's tactics were evident, as the 3-5-2 formation resulted in 11 Italians camping back in their own half.

Aside from two uneventful corners, Spain hadn't constructively threatened Buffon in the Italian goal until the 11th minute. A fast paced break and some intelligent refereeing brought about a three-on-three situation resulting in David Silva firing the ball over the bar.

Three minutes later, Sergio Ramos conceded a free kick on the edge of the Spanish box, forcing Casillas to palm away a well-placed Andrea Pirlo free kick.

GDANSK, POLAND - JUNE 10:  Sergio Ramos of Spain tackles as he attempts to shoot at goal during the UEFA EURO 2012 group C match between Spain and Italy at The Municipal Stadium on June 10, 2012 in Gdansk, Poland.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Against an Italian side consisting of six Juventus teammates, Spain never offered their usual fluent, effervescent threat.

Daniele De Rossi continued to marshal a drilled Italian back line, quenching any Spanish breaks or attacks that gained momentum.

Chances remained at a premium, while the possession count of 52 percent in Spain's favor was almost unrecognizable to their usual training ground ball efficiency. 

Andrés Iniesta's dazzling footwork paved the way for a tantalizing cross into the Italian six-yard box but without an aerial presence, only David Silva and Xavi pressurised the Italian back line.

Tentative in a way that cup finals usually tend to be, the game continued to ebb and flow in an engaging but tactically tight way.

The 36th minute saw Claudio Marchisio draw a fine save from the Casillas in the Spanish goal and one minute later, the terrifically unpredictable Mario Balotelli entered the referee's notebook for the game's first yellow card.

Spain continued to reach the edge of the Italian 18 yard line but devoid of an outright striker, there was no movement behind De Rossi and company that caused alarm.

The last chance of the half fell to Italy, emanating from an incredible Mario Balotelli takedown. Pirlo spread the ball wide for a right-sided cross into the box resulting in a fine save from Iker Casillas to keep out a Thiago Motta header.

GDANSK, POLAND - JUNE 10: Cesc Fabregas of Spain celebrates scoring their first goal during the UEFA EURO 2012 group C match between Spain and Italy at The Municipal Stadium on June 10, 2012 in Gdansk, Poland.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

The final whistle of the first half sounded as both teams entered the dressing room; the Italians being far more satisfied with their exploits.

An intriguing second half awaited.

The first five minutes of the half began with more precision and attacking in the manner we are accustomed to from Spain.

Three minutes later, Mario Balotelli rushed clear through on goal after nicking the ball from Sergio Ramos, but the Spanish defender hurried back to put in a decisive tackle when the Manchester City striker was one-on-one with the keeper.

The second half looked eminently more fascinating and it brought the first goal of the game to give Italy the lead.

A well-timed substitution by Cesare Prandelli lead to Antonio Di Natale racing onto Andrea Pirlo's sumptuous pass to stroke the ball into the right hand corner of the Spanish net.

The joyful celebrations weren't to last for long as ex-Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fàbregas responded almost immediately, latching onto David Silva's inventive flicked through pass and smashed the ball past Buffon.

The introduction of Fernando Torres resulted in an immediate chance as the Chelsea front-man evaded the offside trap only to have his attempt to round the keeper scuppered by Buffon.

Up the other end of the pitch, Di Natale raced on to the end of a beautifully thread pass over the top of the Spanish defence only to blast it wide.

The next 10 minutes brought about three bookings for Chiellini, Arbeloa and Torres. The latter wasted another chance for Spain as he chipped the stranded Buffon from outside the box.

The two sides traded chances with both forcing saves from their opposition's keepers through Navas and Marchisio.

Two late Xabi Alonso efforts from 25 yards out proved to be the last real chances of a game that proved enthralling.

Spain is always late starters and the Italians are masters of defence. This game had a whole lot to see but not a lot was learned.

Group C remains intriguing.

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