Spain vs. Italy: Key Battles to Watch in Euro 2012 Final
Spain and Italy will contest the 2012 edition of the European Championships Final after they won their respective semifinals against Portugal and Germany.
While Spain needed a penalty shootout after a 0-0 draw to progress to the final in Kyiv on Sunday, Italy made for impressive viewing as they dismantled Germany, taking a 2-0 lead before a late penalty halved the deficit.
The last two winners of the FIFA World Cup should put on an entertaining spectacle, as Spain bid to become the first team to retain the Euros and also win three major tournaments on the spin.
Here are five key battles which could shape the result of the match, and ultimately decide the winner.
Xavi vs. Andrea Pirlo
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In the battle for possession between two teams who cherish the ball and keep it for fun at times, the play of Xavi Hernandez of Spain and Andrea Pirlo of Italy could be the one real deciding factor of how the game progresses.
Xavi perhaps wasn't at his very best in the semifinals against Portugal and will need to up his game for the final, but he is definitely a big-game player and has the experience as well as the ability to make his performance count.
On Pirlo's part, he has enjoyed better form as the competition has progressed and has been instrumental in the progress of the Italians through the knockout stages.
With Pirlo the deepest midfielder in blue and Xavi the most advanced of the central midfielders in red, it should be a fascinating battle between the two.
Gerard Pique/Sergio Ramos vs. Mario Balotelli
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After his two-goal heroics in the semifinal against Germany, Mario Balotelli is now the joint top scorer of Euro 2012 with three strikes and will be his country's main hope to fire in goals in the final.
Much improved movement, better work-rate and some fantastic finishing combined to make Mario a headline-maker again, but this time for all the right reasons.
Gerard Pique is the quicker and more physical of the Spain central defensive partnership so would be the better bet to try to keep Balotelli quiet, but should he take up positions to the right side of the attack, where he prefers, then it will be down to Sergio Ramos to keep Balotelli at bay.
Jordi Alba vs. Italy's Right-Back
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With Ignazio Abate struggling with fitness and Christian Maggio suspended, the right-back position for Italy in the semifinal fell to their usual left-side player Federico Balzaretti.
Whether he keeps his place on that side or switches back to his preferred left side to allow a more natural right-sided player into the team, it is for sure that the Italy right-back will have his hands full with raids from deep by Spanish left-back Jordi Alba.
Having forged an exciting understanding with Andres Iniesta playing ahead of him, Alba will look to get forward and overlap on the outside as often as possible, breaking into the box and stretching the opposition's defence.
Xabi Alonso vs. Daniele De Rossi
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Along with the Pirlo-Xavi battle, the other key clash in midfield which could make a real difference to the game is quarterfinal hero Xabi Alonso against Italy's Daniele de Rossi.
Both will be expected to advance into the final third when necessary, but above all else to retain possession for their team and create openings ahead of them.
Which of them do this better could see their side create the most clear scoring chances, and both players are well capable of scoring themselves too.
Not only are they two technically gifted players, they are fierce battlers and proud performers too; expect one or two tasty tackles to go in when they cross each other's paths on the pitch.
Vicente Del Bosque vs. Cesare Prandelli
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Having already crossed paths in the group stage, Vicente del Bosque of Spain and Cesari Prandelli of Italy will be plotting their tactical routes to glory between now and Sunday.
The group stage match finished 1-1, offering little insight as to who might be the stronger outfit now.
Del Bosque has switched between playing a central striker and playing a false nine and must decide on who to start in that position for the final, with the only other possible change being to replace David Silva with either Pedro Rodriguez or Jesus Navas.
Italy have more decisions to make, with the right-back issue to be decided upon and, by association, whether to partner Chiellini with Barzagli, or leave Bonucci in there with the latter.
Timing and tactical changes with substitutions will also play a big part no doubt, with a possibly cagey affair in the final meaning that one mistake or piece of inspiration could be the difference between failure and glory.
It should be a thoroughly intriguing final which awaits us.