Group C
Spain 1-1 Italy

Italy's enigmatic forward Mario Balotelli, of Manchester City, fluffed his lines in the second half when clean through on goal as Ramos tackles him


By Alex Byrom
Deputy Football Editor from Gdansk

Defending champions Spain's opening game ended in disappointment as Italy came away with a deserved draw against the 2008 winners in Gdansk.  

In a tight game, with few clear cut chances, Italy took the lead through substitute Di Natale - who had replaced the fired up Mario Balotelli, before Cesc Fabreags equalised late on. 

Spain did have more of the chances - especially second half, but Casillas had to be alert to deny Italy with some outstanding saves as Spain began with an underpar performance. 

Spain lined up without a recognised striker on the pitch, with Iniesta, Silva and Fabregas expected to be the target man. There was no Puyol either, so Alviro Arbeloa started at right back. For Italy, they lined up in a 5-3-2 sweeper formation, with Daniel De Rossi, sweeping things up and Maggio and Ganccherini going forward. 



Cesc Fabregas ended Spain's 364 minute wait for a goal against Italy in the European Championship finals.

Spain began in typical fashion - dominant in possession, whilst Italy were happy for Spain defenders to have it but pressed quickly when they reached dangerous areas. Because of this it was a slow, laboured build-up for both sides who were content on the ball and under no pressure, depsite that Italy were playing with a back five. 

Even though Italy were in a typical defensive formation, they still managed to commit several players to forays forward. Antonio Cassano turned away from Busquets, ran and found Balotelli whose shot was blocked behind for a corner. 

Spain created their first chance with a customary slow build-up before picking up the pace intensily, leading to a chance for Silva: On a counter-attack Iniesta was took out by De Rossi, but the referee played an excellent advantage, as Silva had the ball but Silva shot straight at Buffon in the Italy goal. 

On 22 minutes, Italy found another decent chance: Pirlo, with a neat pass into Cassano, who turned Ramos far too easily and only just missed the far post as it went wide. Spain nearly took the lead on three minutes later when Fabregas's long ball towards Iniesta found him after a lucky break but his powerful drive was blocked by De Rossi - doing his job well. 

Andres Iniesta, the top scorer for Spain with six qualifying goals, was finding - and creating - space very well and he found a cross that Chiellini just managed to flick away for a corner, which was cleared as far as Jordi Alba who volleyed wide with a wild shot. 

Italy, along with Spain were unbeaten in qualifying, although the holders had a 100% record, were starting to take command and were having the better of the chances, as Cassano tested Casillas's fingertips with a rasping drive which the Spanish captain just managed to beat away. 

A couple of minutes later, they tested Casillas again: Again it was Cassano causing all the trouble and found Marchisio who hit a sweet volley but unfortuantely too close to the veteran Spanish keeper. Mario Balotelli, largely anonymous and isolated, felt that he was being harshly punished and was booked for persistant fouling; it was his sixth foul of the match- and counting. 

Just before half time, the holders fashioned their best chance when Iniesta, after being found by top assist maker in qualifying - Xavi - found him but he could only volley over. And right on half time the Italians should have been in front. An excellent cross from the right by Gianccherini found Motta completely unmarked, but his downward header forced Casillas into a superb save. 

Not long into the second half, Buffon was called into action for the first time as Fabregas took aim from the edge of the box and the 34 year old keeper got two hands behind it. 

Italy were waiting for a mistake from Spain, and when they got one they couldn't make them pay. Balotelli dispossessed Ramos and ran into the area, but decided to hesitate and Ramos got back to put in a fine challenge. The Manchester City striker was then replaced by Di Natale for the first sub of the game. 



Spain have won only one of their last ten competitive matches against Italy and five of the last six.


And the Udinese striker put the outsiders in front on the hour. Andrea Pirlo showed great accelaration to outmuscle Busquets and found a great ball over the top for Di Natale - played onside by Ramos and curled it past Casillas to break the deadlock.  

Spain reacted furiously and responded with a burning desire to equalise. Iniesta shot straight at Buffon before they did grab an equaliser, 3 and a half minutes after conceding. The ball was played into Silva, and with the Italian defence for the first time, all over the place, he flicked it to Fabregas who crashed in. 

This led to some changes: Exciting, young winger Jesus Navas, from Sevilla, was brought on for Silva and Giovinco replaced Cassano for Italy. On 66 minutes we had the second yellow card of the game when Bonucci took out Iniesta and Alba reacted earning himself a yellow card as well. 

As Spain pushed forward in search of a winner Navas was having the better of Gianccherini down the left and his cross was volleyed wide by Jordi Alba. Fernando Torres did come on to give Spain a target man to aim at and within seconds he was played through by Xavi but tried to dribble round Buffon who was having none of it and tackled him. 

Italy were a threat on the break, and substitute Giovinco found a chipped cross and Di Natale in behind Ramos volleyed wide. It was a fantastic chance for the Azzuri. Meanwhile, Torres had another chance in the final five minutes, and what a chance it was too. Xavi found him again, and with Buffon in no-mands land he went for an audacious chip but cleared the crossbar and with it went Spain's victory hopes. 

Xavi was now at the heart of eveything, and he played in Navas but the Sevilla winger's shot was easily gathered by Buffon. On the break Italy had another chance and forced Casillas into another save as Marchisio, but his shot was held. Italy made their final  change late on with Nocerino on for Motta as Spain continued to make the running. This time Xavi and Iniesta combined in the area to set up Alonso who hit a drive wide of the post and so it was a draw. 



Sunday 10th
 June                 UEFA Euro 2012: Poland & Ukraine                   Group C                 PGE Arena, Gdansk

Spain 1-1 Italy                                                   KO 5pm                    Live on ITV1/HD                (HT 0-0)    

Fabregas 64         Di Natale 61





1. Iker Casillas (C)-  8/10  Some fantastic saves to keep Spain on track. Led the team well, good distribution. 

2. Alvaro Arbeloa-  5.5/10  Defended stoutly, but was sometimes caught out. Poor distribution and rarely got forward. Booked for a clumsy tackle.  

4. Gerard Pique-  6/10  KLooked surprisingly unconvincing alongside Ramos. Got caught the wrong side of his marker several times. Good covering. Decent in possession. Good marking of Balotelli. 

12. Sergio Ramos-  5.5/10  Looked slow, and binding in centre defence. Struggled to cope with pace and power of Italy' attacks. Mistake for goal, and nearly caught out several other times. Needs to improve. 

5. Jordi Alba-  6.5/10  SDecent enough start for the young left back. Preferred to get forward although was resolute in defence when needed. 

6. Sergio Busquets-  5/10  Extremely poor game. Passing was either square or backwards and contributed nothing going forward. Beaten by Pirlo for goal. Largely anonymous.  

7. Xabi Alonso-  7.5/10  Expert range of usual passing. Linked play well and also spread the play well. Not his usual fluency in defence, but had a late effort just off target.  

8. David Silva-  8/10  A key player now. Finds those little gaps that no-one else can. Rarely wasted a pass, although sometimes needed to go forward. Excellent assist for goal.  

17. Cesc Fabregas-  8.5/10 On a par with Silva but slightly better. Always available in space but often dropped deep leaving no-one up front. Took goal really well and had multiple other chances. Never wasted a pass and some great cross field passes. 

10. Andres Iniestsa- 8/10  Would have had a hat trick had it not been for some rugged defending. Pulled wide to get the ball and when he did was a joy to watch, weaving and dancing his way through. Still a top class player. 

11. Xavi Hernandez- 7.5/10  Linked play well. A crucial part of the play especially in the latter stages. Delivery was good and always set up chances to score. Some excellent through ball to Torres. Didn't get close to the nox enough though.  


Substitutes bench:-  
12. Valdes (GK), 23. Reina (GK), 2. Raul Albiol, 4. Javi Martinez, 5. Juanfran, 7. Pedro, 9. Torres, 11. Negredo, 13. Mata, 19. Llorente, 20. Santi Cazorla, 22. Jesus Navas. 


Subs used:     

Jesus Navas (for Silva 63)-  5.5/10  Exciting young player. Full of poise, promise and pace. Caused some real problems. Delivery wasn't bad but needs to be more aware. One for the future.   

Torres (for Fabregas 73)-  2.5/10  Replaced Fabregas to try and get a goal and had two decent chances to score and probably should have done. Poor finishing. 


Booked:         Jordi Alba (66), Arbeloa (84), Torres (84) 




1. Gianluca Buffon (C)-  6.5/10  Showed his experience keeping the defence locked and Spain at bay. Was unbeatable when called upon. Could do nothing about the goal.  

3. Giorgio Chiellini-  8.5/10  Dogged, rugged and excellent. The heart of a lion. Got stuck in and prevented Spain from getting in behind. Headed away any long balls. Slight misfortune as he stepped up for the goal.  

16. Danielle De Rossi-  9/10  Kept possession well; some excellent passing, despite his deeper role. Mopped up the pieces and dealt with anything loose that came in the box, and cleared it. Excellent performance.  

19. Leonardo Bonucci  8.5/10  Luckless match. He seemed to be penalised for every foul. Nullified the threat down the lft, forcing Alba to go back inside. Never missed a tackle.  

8. Claudio Marchisio-  8/10  Excellent role as Wing back. Got forward well and was dangerous and dealt, along with Bounucci, stopped the threat from the left. Great run late on when eveyone was tired showed his skill. 

13. Emanuele Gianccherini-  7.5/10  Like Marchisio defended stoutly, even though he struggled a bit with  a direct winger in Navas. Never missed an opportunity to get forward and some great crosses into the box could have set up some goals.  

21. Andrea Pirlo-  7.5/10  Experienced head in the midfield. Was caught in possession a few times, but still a excellent array of passing. Great assist for goal, showing raw sprinting speed.  

5. Thiago Motta-  8.5/10  Also an ageing player but showed his experience. Didn't take any risks, held position well, defending resolutely and passing nice and simple. When he got forward he should have scored just before the break but was denied by Casillas.  

2. Christian Maggio-  7/10 Obnoxious display. Simple passing, linking the play well, and carrying a threat going forward. Could have got into better positions. 

10. Antonio Cassano- 8/10  Worked really hard to make space and make things happen. Some good efforts forcing Casillas into some saves and linked the forwards and the midfield. Popped up all over the pitch and made Spain's defence work hard to track him. 

9. Mario Balotelli- 6/10  Looked out of sorts. Worked hard but seemed to be very frustrated compounded with a booking and was taken off early in the second half.  


Substitutes bench:-  
12. Sirigu (GK), 14. De Sanctis (GK), 4. Ogbonna, 6. Balzaretti, 7. Abate, 11. Di Natale, 15. Barzagli, 17. Borini, 18. Montolivo, 20. Giovinco, 22. Diamanti, 23. Nocerino. 


Subs used:     

Di Natale (for Balotelli 56)-  7/10  Ingenius sub. Took goal well and offered the Italians something different going forward.   

Giovinco (for Cassano)-  5/10  Really good vision and created some decent opportunities. Could have defended better. 

Nocerino (for Motta 88)-  1/10  Really late sub. No time to make an impact. 


Booked:         Balotelli (37), Bonucci (66), Chiellini (79), Maggio


My Man of the Match:    Danielle De Rossi (Italy)- Rating 9/10

My Poorest Performer of the Match:   Sergio Busquets (Spain)- Rating 5/10



Referee: Viktor Kassai (Hungary)- 7/10
Attendance: 37,146



Match Facts:

Possession:  Spain- 57%               
Italy- 43%

Shots at goal: Spain- 18               Italy- 10

Shots on target: Spain- 9               Italy- 6

Shots off target: Spain- 9               Italy- 4

Corners: Spain- 7                     Italy- 2

Fouls: Spain- 12               Italy- 13 

Offsides: Spain- 2               Italy- 3

Assists: Spain- 1 (Silva)               Italy- 1 (Pirlo)




Spain head coach Vicente Del Bosque:  "We have worked hard and put in a good effort. We are relatively satisfied with our day's work. We wanted to have possession in midfield to try and move up the pitch quicker. David Silva, Cesc [Fabregas], and Andres Iniesta arrived very well for the second part of the attack and I thought we did well in this respect."

Italy head coach Cesare Prandelli:  "What disappoints me is that we allowed them to equalise very quickly, [but] a draw was a fair result. We need to improve. We really tried to press the Spaniards from the start of their attacks. We tried to avoid one-on-ones and, for 60-70 minutes we played excellently at the back. We should have made it harder for them to score quickly. The problem [when Torres came on] is that we gave him the ball twice and we caused problems for ourselves." 


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