It is almost certainly too close to call. They know each other well - perhaps too well - for the final of Euro 2012 to be a classic, but both Spain and Italy are aware history beckons in Kiev Sunday afternoon (2:45 p.m. ET).
The portents are inconclusive. The Italians had the better of the group stage meeting which ended all square three weeks ago and I was not the only one impressed by the way they went about their work against the undisputed World and European champions.
Cesare Prandelli's team has been on the front foot from the get go. This is an Italy team which is ready to play from the first whistle, rather than feel its way into a game and adopt a defence-first strategy in the opening stages. It is a team which respects Spain but crucially does not fear them.
This, though, is not just another game. Now we are playing for all the marbles. Will Prandelli preach pace with possession in the tournament finale, or will this be a performance based on the traditions of rock solid defence and an occasional counter-attack to relieve the pressure?
It may have to be. We all know what to expect from Spain - a team unbeaten at the European championships since a quarter-final defeat to Portugal way back in 2004. The Spanish mastery of the patient passing game is second to none and the tactics, though entirely predictable, have yielded rich rewards in recent years.Italy must disrupt flow
To have a chance, Italy must disrupt the flow. The Azzurri cannot afford to stand off their opponents even though the Spaniards will likely dominate possession. In Daniele De Rossi, Prandelli has a player who can set the standard for his teammates to follow. The battle for midfield supremacy will surely be pivotal to the eventual outcome.
Inevitably much of the pre-game hype will focus on Mario Balotelli. His match winning brace against Germany was typically mercurial and the young striker looked every inch the multi-million dollar forward who is aiming to add a European medal to his recent EPL title.
Every credit to Super Mario - but let's face facts. The Germans made him look good with some uncharacteristically poor defending. Don't get me wrong - Balotelli has the potential to be a world class marksman, but surely Spain will not give him that freedom which may cause frustration to set in early.Spain coach won't change tactic
As for Spain, coach Vicente del Bosque appears not to need a centre forward. He has led his team to another major tournament final despite the absence of the injured David Villa and the sparing use of Fernando Torres. Clearly del Bosque believes he can get the job done with a group of attack-minded midfielders who have the collective ability to unlock the tightest defences.
They do not come much tighter than Italy's back line. Aided and abetted by probably the world's best goalkeeper, Gigi Buffon, Spain will likely find scoring opportunities at a premium. It was much the same when Spain advanced to the semifinals only after a penalty shoot out against the Italians four years ago.
If it goes the distance again, Spain may have a significant advantage. The defending champions have had an extra 24 hours to rest and recuperate - a potentially unfair benefit which UEFA needs to address. Other than the organizers' desire to keep us glued to the TV for another day, there is no reason why both semifinals should not be played on the same day, allowing both finalists equal time to prepare for the title game.
Spain will start as slight favourites but history is against them. No nation has ever managed to repeat as European champions, and all of Italy will be hoping the trend continues.
The truth is there can be no favourites in a two-horse race. It really could go either way and while it may not be spectacular, here's hoping it is settled well before the lottery of penalties.
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