Spain vs. Italy: Surging Azzurri Will Knock off Defending Champion Spain

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Spain vs. Italy: Surging Azzurri Will Knock off Defending Champion Spain
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Italy will win the European Championship for the first time in 44 years on Sunday when they stifle and ultimately edge defending champion Spain in the Euro 2012 final in Kiev, Ukraine.

The Italians implemented a brilliant game plan against Germany in Thursday's semifinal, defending by all means necessary and riding two first-half goals from Mario Balotelli to overcome the tournament favorites in Warsaw, Poland, 2-1.

The high-octane offense of the Germans, which had produced four goals in the quarterfinals against Greece, looked lost and frustrated at times, as Italy had an answer for nearly everything they tried to do. Germany didn't score until a Mesut Ozil penalty in injury time, despite earning 14 corners and firing 20 shots, eight of which fell on goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

Italy won thanks to a style that they have played successfully all tournament long, including in their Group C opener against Spain, in which they drew with the defending champions, 1-1. Antonio Di Natale's goal is the only goal Spain have allowed at Euro 2012

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Italy's talented midfielders, including Andrea Pirlo, can play both ways very well, and won't have any trouble creating chances against a susceptible Spanish defense. The key for Italy will be harassing the Spanish midfielders into mistakes and keeping Spain's possession to a minimum.

Spain's short-passing game is always a problem for any opponent, but a team that plays physical defense in front of the ball like Italy should be able to have success against it. Spain struggled in their opener against Italy, creating seven corners and 18 shots, only to score just once. 

The story was the same for the Germans on Thursday. The chances were there but the result was not. Italy are a gritty bunch, and have proven why they are deserving of the 2012 European Championship with their superb play through much of this summer's tournament. 

Spain's reign of international dominance will come to an end on Sunday, as the Azzurri knock them off behind their frustrating, defensive-minded game plan. 

Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter for more take on Euro 2012.

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