Spain vs. Italy: 5 Things We Learned from Their Opening Draw
In a match that pitted the winners of the last three major tournaments for which they were eligible, Spain and Italy delivered what was surely the best-played match of the tournament thus far.
Spain came into the match as distinct favorites, as Italy's off-field distractions had potential to disrupt their focus in the buildup.
In the end, though, it was a fairly even battle, with both sides creating gilt-edged chances.
As a result, both nations walked away with a point, leaving more work to be done in their remaining two group matches.
Here are the five things we learned from the draw and how they may impact the rest of the tournament.
Like Barcelona, Spain Desperately Miss David Villa
There was clearly something missing for Spain today: a capable, out-and-out striker.
Don't get me wrong, Spain's play was more than competitive and beautiful to watch.
However, the finishing and positioning of a striker was just not there.
In the past, that role was taken up by David Villa, who played it to perfection in 2010's World Cup title run. With Villa's broken leg keeping him out for the past several months, though, Spain are struggling to find a striker to offer the same threat.
This was made all the more clear by Fernando Torres' play in this match, as the Chelsea man wasted three great opportunities to win the match and picked up a yellow card after coming on as a substitute.
Italy Are Contenders for the Title
With the off-field distractions and poor friendlies, it was unclear what type of Italy side we would see in this tournament. Yes, they have talent, but would they be able to gel?
The Azzurri seem to have answered that with an emphatic yes today.
They stifled Spain with their tough defense, played well from the midfield, offered several threats on the break and got incredible goal play from Gianluigi Buffon.
With such all-around excellent play, they will be a tough out for any team in this tournament.
Balotelli Must Be Used Sparingly
It must be appreciated that coach Cesare Prandelli offered Mario Balotelli another chance, but the Manchester City striker must be relegated to the bench.
Balotelli proved he was not to be trusted with his hot-headed antics and picking up of a needless yellow card. Further, he wasted a few beautiful opportunities in front of net; this happened most notably when he took the ball off Sergio Ramos, waltzed into the box and took so much time to make up his mind that he allowed Ramos to recover.
To make this an easier decision, his striking partner, Antonio Cassano, played well, while his replacement, Antonio di Natale, scored with almost his first touch.
Spain and Italy Are in Good Position to Advance
Knowing the teams' talents and abilities, they must like their chances to go forward to the quarterfinals after the draw.
From Spain's point of view, a point is probably a little disappointing; however, since Italy are probably the class of their competition in the group, a point is probably acceptable.
For Italy, a point against the team that most believe are the best in the group (and perhaps the competition) is a very welcome result.
The only difference between the two, though, is that Spain have the highest of hopes and expectations for the tournament, whereas Italy will be happy with a spot in the quarters by any means and a chance at glory.
But Leaves the Door Wide Open for Croatia or Ireland to Sneak into the Quarters
Look at it this way: if either Ireland or Croatia pick up all three points against each other in their first match today, they will be two points clear of both Spain and Italy.
From there, one result against either Italy or Spain could see them through the group as a surprise quarterfinalist.
It's not going to be easy, mind you, but the opportunity is there.
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