That’s the first match of Group C done and dusted, and Italy showed their team’s determination and tactical guile as they held Spain to a 1-1 draw.
It was Antonio di Natale of Italy who opened the scoring for Italy shortly after coming off the bench, but the Spain recovered excellently to equalize just 4 minutes after, with Barcelona man Cesc Fabregas ensuring that Spain got their share of the spoils in a very tactical match in Gdansk.
Spanish coach Vincente del Bosque opted to experiment in the opening match of their EURO 2012 campaign, with him opting to field a first eleven side which didn’t feature a ‘proper number 9/10’ up front. It was Cesc Fabregas who was given the task to lead the line, as Fernando Torres, Negredo and Llorente were all left on the bench for this one.
Italy, on the other hand, opted to play with what was set up to be a 3-4-1-2, with 2 full-backs in Maggio and Giaccherini tracking back to ensure that Spain didn’t do any damage from the wings in this game.
Chances were in the premium in the first half, as Spain laid down the gauntlet for Italy, with them playing keep ball. Among key moments in the first half include Buffon’s early save from a David Silva shot following a neat one-two with Iniesta, a free kick by Pirlo which was denied by Spanish number 1 Iker Casillas and Thiago Motta’s effort with a header being acrobatically saved by Casillas.
The second half opened with efforts from Xavi and Iniesta, but a key moment was when the Spanish defence was caught napping when Mario Balotelli bizarrely walked towards goal when having a one-on-one with Casillas, but fortunately Sergio Ramos recovered quick enough and delivered a superb sliding tackle to steal the ball away from the Italian.
Balotelli was taken off shortly after, and Di Natale came on as a replacement. Di Natale made an instant impact, as he latched onto a peach of a pass from midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo before cooly slotting it past Casillas into the bottom right hand corner to make it 1-0 for the Italians.
The advantage lasted for just 4 minutes, as an incredible through ball from Spanish winger David Silva put Fabregas through on goal, before the Spaniard, like Di Natale, put it cooly past the keeper.
Spain looked to be struggling against a very tactical Italian side, and it did look like they needed two things, some more width, and a striker up there. That was exactly what Del Bosque did, albeit it should have been done a bit earlier. Jesus Navas and Fernando Torres were both let loose into the game.
Fernando Torres came on and made Spain look like a much more potent attacking threat, although Torres will be left to rue his indecisions, as the Spanish number 9 spurned not one but two one-on-ones with Italian goalkeeper Gigi Buffon.
Player Focus: Sergio Busquets
A great all around performance from the defensive midfielder, as he bossed that center of the ball park with good passing and great work with the tracking back.
He made the second highest number of passes in the game, but at 93%, he had a better passing percentage than Xavi Hernandez despite completing fewer passes. He distributed the ball well and got Spain moving on the counter-attacks too, with his defensive duties being rock solid today.
To make things clear, the ‘x’ represents tackles (purple represents a failed one, orange a successful one), the green diamond represents interceptions, the purple block represents blocks, and purple ‘o’ a failed clearance. A fantastic performance from the defensive midfielder.