Italy vs. Spain: Why Spain Are Favorites to Win Euro 2012 Final

Tony MabertContributor IJune 28, 2012

DONETSK, UKRAINE - JUNE 27:  Cesc Fabregas of Spain celebrates scoring the winning penalty with team-mates during the UEFA EURO 2012 semi final match between Portugal and Spain at Donbass Arena on June 27, 2012 in Donetsk, Ukraine.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
Lars Baron/Getty Images

Spain will no doubt have had plenty of food for thought as they watched Italy defeat Germany to book a date with them in Sunday's Euro 2012 final, but the defending champions should still go into the Kiev showpiece as favourites to lift the trophy.

The margins may be a lot slimmer than most would have thought three weeks ago, but Vicente Del Bosque's side should still be the one more fancied against their Mediterranean cousins.

After all, they are defending champions, current holders of the World Cup and just one match away from becoming the first nation ever to win three major tournaments in a row.

FIFA has La Furia Roja ranked as the top side in the world, a position they have only briefly relinquished over the past few years. Currently, the Azzurri are ranked 12th.

The bookies certainly agree. At the time of writing, Spain are 8/7 to lift the Henri Delaunay Trophy for a third time this weekend, almost even money. Italy despite upsetting the odds with their 2-1 victory in Warsaw, are currently best-priced at 10/3.

The form of both sides has been sporadically great but not consistently exhilarating ever since they shared the points with a 1-1 draw in their opening Group C fixture.

Spain trounced a poor Ireland side 4-0 before narrowly defeating Croatia 1-0, and their path through the knockout phase saw them ease past France 2-0 before eliminating neighbours Portugal on penalties after 120 goalless minutes.

Italy were held to a 1-1 draw with Croatia and then secured second place in the group with a 2-0 win over the thoroughly deflated Irish. They were unable to score past a stubborn England but vanquished them on penalties before extending their unbeaten competitive record against Germany to eight games with their 2-1 win.

So Spain, while not truly sparkling so far, have reached the final by scoring eight goals and conceding just one. Admittedly, it was Italy's Antonio Di Natale who breached their back line. In the meantime the Azzurri progressed by scoring six goals and shipping three.

Italy do boast among their ranks midfielder Andrea Pirlo, who looks destined to be anointed as player of the tournament whether he is on the winning side or not in the Ukrainian capital. But the very nucleus of the Spain team is made up of a clutch of players who have been consistently among the best in the world for years. Indeed, Xavi Hernandez was on the most recent three-man shortlist for the Ballon d’Or, while the previous year he was joined by his midfield teammate for club and country, Andres Iniesta.

There are a dozen players in the Spain squad who play for the two best club sides in the world, Barcelona and Real Madrid, if you include recent Barca acquisition Jordi Alba. Eight of those players have started all five of Spain’s games so far in Poland and Ukraine, and can expect to start to the final too.

Italy have Mario Balotelli hitting devastating form at just the right time following his brace against Germany, but Spain managed to keep him relatively quiet in their group-stage meeting earlier this month.

Only a fool would completely write off Italy as potential victors in the final. If not for any other reason, the fact that no team has ever claimed three major international trophies on the spin is so because it is an absurdly difficult thing to do. The great West Germany side of the 1970s could not do it, nor could the amazing France team from the turn of the century. The Mannschaft of Beckenbauer, Hoeness and Maier fell at the final of the 1976 Euros, while Les Bleus of Zidane, Henry and Vieira crashed and burned in the group stage of the 2002 World Cup.

However, the culture of winning bred into the key players of Spain’s squad at both club and international level over this most glorious period in their history means they will start the final as the team to beat.

Italy may well defeat Spain and become European champions for only the second time by being deserved winners on the night, but if they do it will be seen as an upset. If Spain win, it will have been expected.