The past two World Cup champions faced off in the opening match of Group C yesterday. The highly anticipated match had its fair share of excitement and frustration for both sets of fans and neither can be unhappy with the 1-1 result.
Coming into Euro 2012 there were many questions surrounding who would feature for Spain at striker. The absence of David Villa has left a void at the striker position and rather than attempting to fill it with Torres, Negredo, or Llorente, Vicente Del Bosque opted to forego fielding a true striker. The role was filled by a combination of David Silva, Cesc Fabregas, and Andreas Iniesta who all took a turn rotating into the role.
Cesare Prandelli opted to field a 3-5-2 formation to counter Spain’s striker-less formation, with Roma midfielder Daniele De Rossi filling in at the defender position. With neither side utilizing a conventional lineup, the match began with uncertainty. The pitch at the Arena Gdansk looked like it had not been watered in days prompting complaints from the Spaniards following the match. Both sides enjoyed chances in the early minutes, but they were expertly turned aside by the keeper captains.
Spain’s six midfielders constantly harassed the Italians in possession, expertly pressing the ball at almost all times in the early stages. Italy enjoyed the majority of the chances in the first half, forcing Iker Casillas to make several saves including a header from Thiago Motta just before the halftime whistle. Spain’s best opportunities also came shortly before the half, with the best coming from Andreas Iniesta who missed high over the bar.
Spain began the second half attacking with fervor, with Fabregas and Iniesta forcing saves from Buffon and Xavi Hernandez missing just wide of the Italian goal. Italy responded with Mario Balotelli dispossessing Sergio Ramos and breaking down the left flank, but as the mercurial Italian striker closed in on Casillas’ goal he was dispossessed from behind after holding onto the ball for too long. It was a prime opportunity spoiled by the young striker and he was replaced four minutes later by Antionio Di Natale.
Di Natale’s impact on the match was immediately felt. Andrea Pirlo dribbled through the Spanish midfield and found Di Natale with a precise through ball and the substitute’s first touch of the match was a shot that beat Iker Casillas and opened the scoring. The veteran striker celebrated enthusiastically with his teammates as the defending World Cup and Euro champions returned to the center circle to plot their response.
Spain's response came just a few minutes later, a spectacular ball from David Silva found the streaking Cesc Fabregas and the Barcelona midfielder buried the equalizer past Gigi Buffon. The Spanish fans celebrated wildly, while their team quickly returned to the center circle, eager to turn the level result into a win. Immediately following his piece of genius, David Silva gave way for Jesus Navas, as Vicente Del Bosque sought to inject more speed into the Spanish attack to earn them a victory. Fernando Torres warmed up on the sidelines for a few additional minutes before replacing the goalscorer Fabregas.
Immediately following his introduction, Torres found himself one on one with Buffon, but as the out-of-form Chelsea striker attempted to round the keeper, he was dispossessed and an opportunity went begging for the defending champions. Italy responded with an opportunity of their own and Di Natale narrowly missed on a side volley from the six yard box. Torres responded by nearly gave Spain a winning goal in the 85th minute, but his effort sailed just over the bar.
The closing minutes of the match featured scoring opportunities from both sides. Claudio Marchisio and Thiago Motta played a quick one-two that allowed Marchisio to find his way into the opposition penalty area, but his shot went straight into the waiting hands of Casillas. Spain responded with an attack just before the final whistle, with Iniesta beating three men before leaving it for Navas who found Xabi Alonso, but the eventual shot ran wide of the post. The final whistle sounded and the 1-1 result was a fair result for both sides.
The unusual tactics gave way to some beautiful football throughout the match. Both sides had wasted scoring opportunities that could have earned them the victory, but neither could be unhappy with the result.