Italy vs Spain: Keys to Clash in Fortaleza

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Italy vs Spain: Keys to Clash in Fortaleza
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In the second match of the 2013 Confederations Cup semifinals, Italy will face world No. 1 Spain on Thursday in Fortaleza for the right to advance to the final.

Both teams come into the match with injuries, but each is hoping its players will step up on the pitch in Brazil.

Spain placed third in the 2009 Confederations Cup, while this is Italy's first trip to the semifinals.

Let's take a look at the keys to Thursday's match.

Filling In for Injured Stars

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Both Italy and Spain will be without several key players in Thursday's clash.

For Italy, top forward Mario Balotelli and defender Ignazio Abate have both been ruled out, per For Spain, midfielder Cesc Fabregas and striker Roberto Soldado have been ruled out. There are also question marks surrounding Italy's Andrea Pirlo (calf) and Riccardo Montolivo, per the report.

Italy headed into the 2013 Confederations Cup with a 4-3-2-1 formation, aimed at directing the attack through Balotelli. But, after Balotelli's injury, coach Cesare Prandelli could go with a 3-5-2 formation, slotting Alberto Gilardino into Balotelli's place, according to Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport, via Stephan El Shaarawy or Sebastian Giovinco will reportedly be the option alongside Gilardino.

Giovinco scored the game-winner against Japan in the group stage. El Shaarawy has played one game for Italy in the tournament, registering one shot (zero on goal).

As for Spain, Fabregas has played in three games in the tournament (two starts), notching an assist. Soldado has two starts, registering one goal on four shots on goal.

Balotelli's absence may hurt Italy more. He had registered a team-high two goals in the tournament before going down to injury, ranking fourth in the Castrol Index Top 10.

Italy's Defense

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Italy was able to allow just one goal against disappointing Mexico in the group stage, but also allowed three goals to Japan and four goals to Brazil.

A lot of the emphasis has been on Balotelli's absence, but the Italian defense may actually be the more important factor in Thursday's clash.

After all, Spain has scored a tournament-best 15 goals already, with the scoring coming from various players, including Fernando Torres, who boasts five goals in the Confederations Cup this year.

Who Starts Better?

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Who will win on Thursday?

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Going up against the world No. 1 is enough of a challenge for Italy, especially without Balotelli.

The Italians must capitalize on their scoring opportunities, and there aren't likely to be many. They don't want to be overly aggressive, considering Spain's ability to score in a heartbeat off a defensive stop, but they do want to be on point early.

In the 4-2 defeat to Brazil in the group stage, Brazil's Dante scored in first-half stoppage time, giving the Brazilians a 1-0 lead headed into the second half. That may have been just one goal, but it gave the Brazilians a psychological advantage early on.

If Italy scores first on Thursday, perhaps the side can take away some of Spain's thunder.

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