The European and World Champions will start their Euro 2012 campaign against Italy on Sunday, as they attempt to become the first national team to win three successive major tournaments.
Spain: Compared to the World Cup winning squad of South Africa, Spain have become stronger in the area they excel in - midfield. David Silva and Juan Mata have developed into world-class playmakers after moving to England, while Cesc Fabregas, by his own admission, has become a better tactical player after he returned to Spain. The versatile Santi Cazorla, who missed out the squad two years ago due to injury, offers another dynamic option.
However, they are weaker elsewhere - the ever dependable David Villa is missing in attack, while there is no Carlos Puyol at the back. The Barcelona core, which has been Spain's backbone over the last few years, is coming into this tournament with their confidence levels not as high as usual. The Catalans have given up their La Liga and Champions League titles and also lost influential boss Pep Guardiola. Spain have an unbalanced squad for this campaign but Vicente Del Bosque must now assemble a balanced line-up to defend their crown.
Italy: Cesare Prandelli is not a typical Italian coach. He is not a tactician like Marcello Lippi or Fabio Capello. He more like Arsene Wenger, with emphasis on a general attacking approach than following specific tactics required for each match and opponent. The 54 year old has tried to deploy a positive style of play for his team. That is not only because it is his style but also because the Azzurri do not have big names at the back any more. The golden days of Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta and Fabio Cannavaro are over. Italy's defenders are good but they are not the best in the business now.
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It is safe to say Italy do not have enough quality players to guarantee convincing performances and hence they are dependent on managerial calls to make an impact. The big question is - will Prandelli switch to a new 3-5-2 formation from the usual 4-3-1-2 approach? Italy had a dismal run in the build-up to the Euros and after getting hammered 0-3 by Russia last week, pundits and media speculate the Azzurri will switch to a five-man midfield in the hope of changing their fortunes. Prandelli's preference for new and unusual formations means Italy could provide a challenge for their opponents.
Where to Watch Live:
You can follow the game live on iTV 1 and iTV 1 HD, as well as BBC Radio Five and the official UEFA Web site. Catch the highlights on BBC One and the BBC Sport Web site.
Team News: Del Bosque has a full 23-man squad to choose from. However, midfielder Cesc Fabregas may not feature in this clash as the former Arsenal captain is yet to regain full fitness after picking up a knock in the Copa del Rey final last month. Chelsea striker Fernando Torres is likely to get the nod to start up front, though Athletic Bilbao's Fernando Llorente remains an interesting option. Due to Carlos Puyol's absence, Sergio Ramos will move to centre-back with his Real Madrid team mate Alvaro Arbeloa at right-back.
Italy have their fair share of problems, with centre-back Andrea Barzagli being sidelined for the first two matches with a calf injury. Fellow defender Giorgio Chiellini missed their friendly against Russia due to fitness issues but should start at the back for this tie. Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli are expected to continue their partnership up front.
- Spain have won eight times against Italy in 29 meetings but seven of those came in friendlies
- The Italians have won only two of their last nine games at the Euros, while Del Bosque's side has won 41 of their last 45 official matches, with 14 in a row
- None of the players in Prandelli's squad have scored more than 10 goals for the national team
- On their way to Euro 2008 glory, Spain beat Italy in a penalty shootout after a 0-0 draw in the quarterfinals. However, the last time the two sides met, the Azzurri beat the world champions 2-1 with goals from Riccardo Montolivo and Alberto Aquilani, back in August
Probable starting line-up
Spain (4-2-1-3): Casillas; Arbeloa, Pique, Ramos, Alba; Busquets, Xabi Alonso; Xavi; David Silva, Iniesta, Torres
Italy (4-3-1-2): Buffon; Maggio, Bonucci, Chiellini, Balzaretti; Pirlo, De Rossi, Marchisio; Montolivo; Balotelli, Cassano
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