Spain vs. Italy: 7 Bold Predictions for Euro 2012 Final
Two teams are left, and only one can win it all.
Spain and Italy will collide Sunday in the Euro 2012 final, and history will be on the line.
Vicente del Bosque's Spain will be playing for their third straight major international title after winning Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010.
Italy—four-time World Cup winners and one-time European champs—will be playing the role of spoiler.
The same two teams met in the opening round of Group C, and they shared the spoils in a 1-1 draw.
Will we see the same result Sunday? Keep reading for seven bold predictions about the Euro 2012 final.
Balotelli Will Top Himself
Mario Balotelli scored twice, stripped once and starred in the headline role of Italy's Euro 2012 semifinal victory over Germany.
Get ready because he could do something even bigger in the final.
Will he score three goals? Who knows. He might not score at all. But whether it's by scoring or some other unforeseen way, Balotelli will make headlines again in the final.
He truly cannot help it, and we truly would not have it any other way.
Three at the Back
Italy manager Cesare Prandelli has alternated using a three- and four-man back line at Euro 2012.
Both formations have worked, so Prandelli's back line will be a source of intrigue heading into Sunday's final.
Against Spain in both teams' opener, Italy played a three-man back line of Daniele De Rossi, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci. Since then, Andrea Barzagli and Federico Balzaretti have performed well in the heart of a four-man defense.
De Rossi and Chiellini struggled for full fitness ahead of the Germany game, but if they're both fit for Sunday's final, the three-man defense could return.
Fabregas Up Top
Spain manager Vicente del Bosque has tinkered repeatedly with his offense, starting Cesc Fabregas, Fernando Torres and Alvaro Negredo in the middle of the attack in different games.
All three have their supporters—except perhaps Negredo—and all have their detractors. But when Fabregas is on the field as the center forward, Spain have generally played best.
Of course, starting Pedro or Jesus Navas might also make a difference, but don't expect Del Bosque to do something quite so bold.
Instead, just expect to see Fabregas starting up top in the now-famous 4-6-0.
Scoreless First Half
Both Spain and Italy have benefited from strong defenses at Euro 2012.
Spain have allowed only one goal the entire tournament—Antonio Di Natale's opener for Italy in both teams' first match of the tournament. Since then, La Roja have gone more than four games—including extra time against Portugal—without conceding.
Italy conceded Mesut Ozil's stoppage-time penalty in the semifinals, but that was only the third goal allowed by the Azzurri at this tournament. The last came in the team's second group game, against Croatia.
We know that both teams can defend, and we know that both are disciplined. We also know neither will want to make an early mistake in the final.
With all that in mind, a scoreless half seems almost inevitable.
Italy to Score First
Italy broke the deadlock last time these teams played, and they'll do it again Sunday.
Spain will control possession with their quick-touch passing game, but Andrea Pirlo will engineer yet another goal for the Italians—in the second half, of course.
Spain will probably equalize in the second half, much like the first time these teams met, and the match very well could go into extra time and eventually to penalties.
Both teams are disciplined enough to hold out for long periods, and both are also defensively sound.
Regardless of what happens, though, Italian midfielder Andrea Pirlo will be named the man of the match.
Pirlo, 33, enjoyed a fine first season at Juventus after being dumped by AC Milan, and his irresistible form has translated nicely to the international game. Against Spain, he will again draw rave reviews for his passing, playmaking, vision and movement with and without the ball.
In what could be his final major-tournament performance, Pirlo will be named man of the match—and then player of the tournament.
Italy Will Win
Call it a premonition, kind of like the one Cesc Fabregas had when he was talking to the ball a few days ago.
This time, Cesc and Spain are going down. The dream of three straight major titles will remain just that.
Italy will not be denied.
As the tournament started, this team was mired in scandal—much like six years ago during the World Cup.
Much like that 2006 World Cup team, this squad has rallied together in spite of—or maybe because of—the scandal.
The Azzurri are playing their best football right now and, what's more, they seem to have destiny on their side.