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Italy vs. Spain: Mario Balotelli and More Azzurri Stars on Rise After Euro 2012

KIEV, UKRAINE - JULY 01:  Mario Balotelli of Italy runs with the ball during the UEFA EURO 2012 final match between Spain and Italy at the Olympic Stadium on July 1, 2012 in Kiev, Ukraine.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Tim DanielsFeatured ColumnistJuly 3, 2012

Italy wasn't able to complete its surprising Euro 2012 run, losing to Spain in the championship match. That being said, the tournament shouldn't be viewed as a complete loss. The Azzurri exceeded expectations and several players gained valuable experience.

Let's take a look at three players who will benefit the most from their playing time at the event. All of them should still have their best football years ahead of them and Euro 2012 should give them the boost they need to take the next step forward.

 

WARSAW, POLAND - JUNE 28: Claudio Marchisio of Italy (L) and Bastian Schweinsteiger of Germany battle for the ball during the UEFA EURO 2012 semi final match between Germany and Italy at the National Stadium on June 28, 2012 in Warsaw, Poland.  (Photo by
Michael Steele/Getty Images

Claudio Marchisio

After enjoying the best campaign of his club career with Juventus, Marchisio was able to carry over that momentum into the European Championships. He didn't score, but he played a vital role in the Italian midfield and was usually one of the most dangerous players on the pitch.

He lined up behind Mario Balotelli and the tandem worked almost perfectly together. It was often Marchisio's relentless play in the midfield that allowed Italy to gain possession, especially against Germany in the semifinals.

Most importantly, it seemed like he gained confidence every step of the way playing against elite competition, which should greatly benefit him next season.

 

Mario Balotelli

Balotelli has always had the talent to become one of the game's elite players, but his temperament has held him back early in his career. Euro 2012 should be the learning experience he needs to start turning the corner.

Even though he wasn't able to keep his team close in the final, Italy wouldn't have reached that point without him. Balotelli scored three goals, including two against previously unstoppable Germany to lead the upset charge.

The tournament appeared to help Balotelli focus more on helping the team win than his own antics. He didn't pick up any crazy red cards and played terrific throughout. A definite improvement.

 

KIEV, UKRAINE - JULY 01:  Leonardo Bonucci of Italy
 with the ball during the UEFA EURO 2012 final match between Spain and Italy at the Olympic Stadium on July 1, 2012 in Kiev, Ukraine.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Leonardo Bonucci

Things got out of hand in the final against Spain, but that was a team-wide failure. Prior to that match, Bonucci was one of Italy's most important players as he held up strong in the center of defense, particularly in the knockout stages.

The 25-year-old rising star started five games and entered the other one as a sub. Leading up to the title game, Italy had only allowed three goals in five games and Bonucci was a main reason why. His combination of physical play and smart decisions was evident.

Bonucci was right on the brink of reaching star status and his performance for Italy should be enough to get him over that hump. He's quietly developing into one of the most reliable defenders in Europe.

 

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