Kiev, Jul 1: Euro 2012 finalists Spain and Italy will test each others physical and mental strength ahead of their final clash at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev today.
Both teams clashed during their cagey Group opener which ended in a 1-1 draw with Spain dominating the proceedings despite going a goal down. Spain got back the momentum after Cesc Fabregas cancelled out Antonio Di Natale's goal.
Since then Spain have dominated almost every game with their 'tika-tika' style. Maintaning over 50 percent ball possession and completing double the amount of passes than their opponents has been Vicente Del Bosque's teams trademark style.
Having selected the same line-up for every game, the Spanish players were not at their best against their Iberian rivals Portugal in the semi-final. Both teams cancelled each other out for 120 minutes. Spain, however, qualified for the finals after winning the penalty shoot-out 4-2.
Nine players from Del Bosque's usual line-up play for Real Madrid and Barcelona in the domestic Spanish league. Each of them have played over 30 games for their club last season. So, atleast some of the players could experience fatigue in the ongoing European Championship tournament.
Notably, during the semi-final against Portugal, Xavi Hernandez was substituted for Pedro Rodriguez late in the second half while David Silva was replaced by Jesus Navas. Xavi, who is known for controlling the tempo of the game, was not as sharp against the Portuguese in terms of speed. While the speedy substitutes offered more pace and chances during extra-time.
But in the finals against Italy, will Del bosque keep Xavi on the bench and choose Pedro on the left flank or will he go for a more cautious approach, remains the big question. Andres Iniesta, who has been explosive on the left flank, will have to play a deeper role in the absence of his club teammate Xavi.
But the former Real Madrid coach is smart enough to bring on these pacey substitutes during the latter stages of the game.
On the other hand, the Italians have made a brilliant comeback after struggling for form prior to the tournament. Finishing second to Spain in the Group stage, Italy beat (penalty shoot-out) a hapless English side in the quarter-finals while they cruised to the finals after thrashing Germany in the last-four.
The Azzurri playmaker Andrea Pirlo dominated the midfield in those games while striker Mario Balotelli has become the joint top-scorer with three goals. Cesare Prandelli has enforced confidence to his aging side which has seen them earn the title of contenders from underdogs.
Known as the unpredictable side, Italy have turned the tide towards them in Euro 2012. Pirlo, who has been an inspiration for both club and country over the past season, single-handedly controls the flow and tempo of the game.
While both teams have an able team even on the bench, Del Bosque and Prandelli are sure to be more cautious ahead of their finals meeting at the Euro 2012.