Euro 2012: 5 Conclusions on Spain 1, Italy 1
An engrossing fixture in Gdansk saw Italy and Spain share the points after a 1-1 draw.
After a slow first half, the game burst into life after 60 minutes, with both teams scoring in the space of five minutes.
Spain then looked the more likely of the two to seal the win, but couldn't find the necessary breakthrough during the last 30 minutes.
So, what can we take from the game?
Spain Are Not as Strong as They Once Were
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This Spanish team is, simply put, not as strong as it was in 2010, and also appears to be far from the magical side that won the Euros in 2008.
Most notably, they don't seem to have a dominant striker around which their attacks can be focused, like David Villa in 2010, or Fernando Torres in 2008.
In a move that has long been simmering in their tactical playbook, Spain started the game today without a recognised striker.
Cesc Fabregas rampaged across the forward line in an advanced tactical position, but Fabregas is no striker, despite his wonderfully taken goal.
Indeed, one could argue about Spain's need for a striker, given the number of potential goal scorers that they have in the side, such as David Silva, Andres Iniesta, and Fabregas.
And given Fernando Torres's abject 20 minute cameo, he won't be forcing his way into the side anytime soon.
But Spain do look like a team whose penchant for possession-dominated football has now gone a bit too far.
The likes of Fernando Llorente or Alvaro Negredo will need to step up and seize the opportunity that Torres's poor form has given to them if Spain want to add a cutting edge to their beautiful passes.
Italy Could Go the Distance
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Much of the pre-tournament chatter about potential Euro winners has been dominated by three teams: Spain, Germany and the Netherlands.
Yet after all three of those teams have played, only Germany truly look like a balanced, strong side that deserve their mantle as potential winners.
Italy have largely slipped under the radar. Maybe because their qualifying group was relatively straightforward, or because far too much has been read into their recent defeat against the United States, but Italy, strangely, have not taken their usual place among the pre-tournament favourites.
But judging from today's showing, they have real strengths; and it will be huge challenge for anyone to beat the Azzurri.
Italy, of course, have great defenders and one of the world's best goalkeepers; but they also appear to have an interesting attacking edge to their game.
Claudio Marchisio impressed as an inventive midfielder in today's game, and Sebastian Giovinco also looked good in the 25 minutes he got on the pitch.
Ultimately, if even Spain are struggling to beat this side, then the Italians may quietly fancy their chances in the tournament.
Antonio Di Natale Deserves to Start for Italy
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Pippo Inzaghi may finally be too old to get a place in the squad, but the Italians shouldn't be too worried about goals with Antonio Di Natale around.
Di Natale may not have the all-around game or the youthful energy of Mario Balotelli, but you know what Di Natale is going to give you on a game-by-game basis: goals.
One week, Balotelli might score a screamer and be the difference in a game, yet he always seems to be one moment of craziness away from a red card.
Di Natale, by contrast, can't dominate the opponent's back line in the way Balotelli can. But if Di Natale is given a chance, he'll almost always put it away.
A relatively late bloomer, Di Natale's career has only really taken off since he turned 30, but he's banged in a ton of goals since then.
Rather than worry about Balotelli, the Italians should plump for Di Natale's calm, reliable goal scoring ability. He deserves a place in the Italian starting XI.
Both Teams Will Still Qualify from the Group
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Ultimately, this was a hard-fought contest; and both teams can come away happy with a point.
It might be a slightly better point for the Italians than the Spanish, but this was by far the hardest game in the group for each side.
Croatia and Ireland simply aren't at the same level as Italy and Spain.
Now that the stronger nations have got a point under their belts, I would bet on them both beating Croatia and Ireland.
Of the four groups, this always looked the easiest to call; and having watched the opening fixture, Italy and Spain should qualify with relative ease.
The Euros Are Simply Much, Much Better Than the World Cup
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The World Cup has become an overrated, bloated beast with far too many lopsided matches in the group stages.
Such is FIFA's desire to milk every last drop out of its biggest cash cow; there are always a number of sides at the World Cup between sides who don't deserve to be considered among the best in the world, but who ensure a few more games of advertising driven revenue.
The group stages in World Cup 2010 were filled with tedium, with lesser nations defending for 90 minutes in the hope of a point or a single moment of magic.
By contrast, the Euros have featured top quality matches from the start.
Top teams are drawn together in the group stages and play to win.
Italy against Spain was not just a great match, it was also a great advert for the European Championships—two high-quality sides going for it from the first whistle and in the group stages.
With the Euros set to expand from 16 to 24 teams in 2016, let's hope this quality isn't lost in the future.