Italy's stingy defense will be the difference in their Sunday showdown with defending European champion Spain in the Euro 2012 final.
Although the Spanish have not allowed a goal since their Group C opener against, who else, Italy, they looked awfully susceptible in the final third against Portugal, who boast little goal-scoring threat outside of star player Cristiano Ronaldo, in their Wednesday semifinal win.
Meanwhile, Italy are coming off a near-shutout of the offensive-minded Germans, who tallied four goals against Greece in the quarterfinals. Italy conceded 14 corners and 20 shots to Germany, but allowed just one goal, and that didn't come until two minutes into injury time.
The Italians' heroic defensive effort did not go unnoticed on Thursday, and it won't on Sunday either, as they play a Spanish side that has looked less and less stellar at Euro 2012.
Italy's Mario Balotelli is in top form as well heading into Sunday's final after scoring two monumental goals in the first half against Germany on Thursday. Balotelli's presence in front of the Spanish net will be unlike any Spain have faced all tournament long.
More importantly for Italy on Sunday, though, will be their gritty team defense in front of goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who has allowed just three goals all tournament, one of which was a penalty by Germany's Mesut Ozil in injury time.
Buffon's experience and composure in net has proved to be a brilliant last line of defense for the Italians over the years, especially in their run to the 2006 World Cup championship.
Italy's world-class midfielder Andrea Pirlo will also be a critical defensive component this weekend. Pirlo is a crafty two-way player who will take center stage for the Italians. Pirlo has scored once and assisted twice in five matches at Euro 2012.
His midfield partners, including Daniele De Rossi, take pride in their defense every bit as much as they do in maintaining possession and creating scoring chances.
Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter for more take on Euro 2012.
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