Spain tested by rejuvenated Italy | Soccer | CBC Sports

Euro CupSpain tested by rejuvenated Italy

Posted: Sunday, June 10, 2012 | 06:40 PM

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With his confident swagger of yesteryear gone, the involvement by Spain forward Fernando Torres in Euro 2012 may be severely limited. (Pierre-Philippe Marcou/Getty Images) With his confident swagger of yesteryear gone, the involvement by Spain forward Fernando Torres in Euro 2012 may be severely limited. (Pierre-Philippe Marcou/Getty Images)

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Now we know. Spain's sharp edge is absent and being missed. Four years ago Fernando Torres' goal won it all. Two years ago David Villa led Spain to the top of the world. We have known for some time Villa would not be involved because of a broken leg. We've also known Torres is simply not the clinical goal poacher he once was.

Now we know. Spain's sharp edge is absent and being missed.

Four years ago Fernando Torres' goal won it all. Two years ago David Villa led Spain to the top of the world. We have known for some time Villa would not be involved because of a broken leg. We've also known Torres is simply not the clinical goal poacher he once was.

Spain, thus, has a problem and the coach knows it. Vicente del Bosque, who grew weary of Torres' miscues in South Africa, has not forgotten. He could have gone with the other Fernando - Bilbao's Llorente - for the Group C opener against Italy. To ignore both in favour of three attack-minded midfielders is hardly a vote of confidence in his strikers.

In stark contrast Cesare Prandelli had no worries releasing the hounds. The Italian coach signaled his intentions for the match, and perhaps the tournament, by selecting the controversial strike partnership of Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli. This is not an Italian team which intends to park the bus.

The Italians, though, have bought some extra insurance. It comes in the form of veteran midfielder turned sweeper Daniele De Rossi. His name looks out of place in the middle of a back three on a tactical team sheet but Prandelli knew what he was doing. De Rossi didn't put a foot wrong against the world's No. 1 team.

The Azzurri, so lacklustre at the World Cup, was fully engaged from the get go. The game plan was clear and the players executed, almost to perfection. Spain would not be allowed to get comfortable on the ball and play their patient passing style. The Spanish were hurried and worried by Italy's nonstop energy.

The agility of Iker Casillas, who turned away a Thiago Motta header on the stroke of half time, preserved the stalemate but Italy smelled blood. After the break Balotelli robbed Sergio Ramos only to criminally delay applying the finishing touch when one-on-one with the Spanish keeper.

Di Natale gives Italians lift

Not-so Super Mario gave way to Antonio Di Natale and within minutes the substitution paid handsome dividends. Allowing Andrea Pirlo to run is always a risky tactic but the challenge never came. Pirlo's flawlessly weighted pass and Di Natale's perfectly timed run ripped open the Spanish defence for a deserved lead.

The Italians' joy was short-lived. Vulnerable after scoring, their dedicated and suffocating defensive effort was shredded by a brilliant combination play involving Andres Iniesta, Silva and finally Cesc Fabregas. The goals came just three minutes apart and the status quo was restored.

Torres would get his chance but not a winner. With his first touch he found himself bearing down on Gigi Buffon's goal but badly fluffed his lines. Late in the game Torres attempted to chip over Buffon but the effort cleared the bar. The confident swagger of yesteryear has gone and Torres' involvement in Euro 2012 may be severely limited.

Spain must deal with lofty expectation

Spain is a nation which must now deal with the pressure of expectation. Every opponent will up its game in search of a famous scalp and this was not a performance which will overly concern either Croatia or the Irish. Failing to beat Italy is hardly a crisis but Spain must be mentally strong enough to remove the target on its back.

The rehabilitation of Italy may not be entirely complete but Prandelli's team means business. The Azzurri will take great encouragement from holding the world champions but must show a similar level of commitment and drive against theoretically weaker opponents in the remaining group games.

Croatia will be anything but a pushover. The early group leaders will be brimming with confidence after beating Ireland and relishing the chance to mix it with the Italians. A satisfactory start but Italy must now refocus and target an opening win on Thursday.

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