KIEV, UKRAINE (AP) - And so they meet again at Euro 2012.
This time, however, Spain and Italy are playing for the European Championship and a place in the history books.
The Mediterranean rivals meet Sunday in Kiev’s Olympic Stadium, three weeks after they drew 1-1 in their opening match of the tournament’s group stage.
As the defending champion and World Cup holder, Spain is bidding to win a third straight major title, cementing its place as one of the greatest national teams. It would also match Germany’s record of three European Championship titles.
Only the unpredictable Mario Balotelli and a surprising Italy team _ orchestrated by Andrea Pirlo _ stand between Spain and what many see as its destiny.
Even Italy coach Cesare Prandelli reckons that Spain is the best bet to lift the trophy.
“At the moment, even if I open my eyes, I am still dreaming,” Prandelli said after his side’s 2-1 victory over Germany in the semifinals, when Balotelli scored both goals.
“Spain remain favorites because of the years of hard work that they have put in. They have been dominant in every game they’ve played so far.”
Spain hasn’t lost in a European Championship since 2004 and has already matched West Germany as the only defending champion to return to the final after winning the World Cup. The West Germans managed it in 1976, but subsequently lost to Czechoslovakia following Antonin Panenka’s famous chip shot in a penalty shootout.
This final brings together teams with players brazen enough to have successfully copied Panenka’s audacious spot kick during their penalty shootouts in the knockout rounds. Spain defender Sergio Ramos used it in the semifinal win over Portugal, after Pirlo employed it against England in the quarterfinals.
It also features the tournament’s best defensive team against one of its most exciting attacking squads.
Spain has not conceded a goal since that opening draw with Italy and hasn’t been scored upon in nine elimination games at major tournaments. Balotelli, Antonio Cassano and Pirlo are leading one of Italy’s top attacking teams in recent history.
“We always just tried to play, I think that is our strength,” said Prandelli, whose team is bidding to give Italy its second European title, the same number as Spain and France.
“When we started off at this tournament, we were convinced that by working in a certain way we could become a proper team _ not just a quality team, but also a team with the right spirit.”
Though Balotelli’s selection had been in doubt due to troubles both on and off the pitch at Manchester City, the 21-year-old Italian of Ghanaian descent has scored three times at Euro 2012.View Entire Story
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