Euro 2012: How Italy & Andrea Pirlo Can Defeat Spain

Here’s an in depth look at one of the combatants – Italy – how they got there and how they can beat Spain.

Qualifying Italy were pitted in UEFA Euro 2012 qualifying Group C alongside Estonia, Serbia, Slovenia, Northern Ireland and the Faroe Islands. In their opening group game, Italy prevailed 2-1 over Estonia, before hammering minnows Faroe Island 5-0. Northern Ireland however would then hold them to a goalless draw in October 2010. Italy would go on to chalk up their third victory under controversial circumstances however. Their tie against Serbia was abandoned after 6 minutes due to rioting by Serbian fans. The UEFA Control and Disciplinary Body awarded the match as a 3€“0 forfeit win to Italy. They then edged past Slovenia 1-0 to end the first round of fixtures unbeaten. Their second meeting with Estonia wasn't as close this time, as they ran away 3-0 winners, however, if they were hoping for a similarly easy game against the Faroe Islands, they were to be mistaken, as they were limited to a one nil win. They beat Slovenia by the same scoreline before being held by Serbia, whom's supporters behaved this time. In their final match in qualifying, they beat Northern Ireland 3-0 to top group C with 26 points and 20 goals scored. The Finals Italy were again drawn in Group C, this time against European and World Champions Spain. They would also face Irish opposition again, this time in the mold of the Republic of Ireland. Croatia would make up the group. Their preparations for the finals were thrown into chaos however when the country was hit by a second match fixing scandal in six years. The police made 19 arrests, including Lazio captain Stefano Mauri, while Prandelli dropped Domenico Criscito from his squad for the Euros after the Zenit St Petersburg defender was questioned at the training camp. The latest controversy led to Italian prime minister Mario Monti suggesting football in Italy "could be suspended" whilst national team coach Cesare Prandelli remarked he would have 'no problem' if Italy pulled out of the tournament. That did not come to fruition however, though they still almost endured an early exit anyway. They were held 1-1 in their opening group game against Spain, and went a goal up with a Di Natali strike before Fabregas equalized. Their hopes of progressing into the quarter final were then dealt a majour blow as they were again held 1-1 by Croatia. Only a 2-0 victory over the Republic of Ireland coupled with a Croatian defeat to Spain was enough to see them edge through in second place by a single point. Last 8 As runners up in Group C, they faced the winners of Group D - England. In what was one of the most one sided contests at the Euro's, Italy could not make their dominance count. They had 63% overall ball possession, 31 shots on goal and 18 on target to England's 8 and 4. Evergreen Pirlo dictated that game was was instrumental in Italy's dominance. As the game ticked over into penalties after a goalless half hour of extra time, Italy benefited from England's disastrous record from the spot, winning 4-2. Semi-Finals Italy appeared to have put their patchy run of form from the group stages well and truly behind them as they raced into a two goal first half lead against Germany courtesy of two Mario Balotelli goals. Whilst many expected the Germans to win, Italy displayed much of the quality football that saw them outplay England for a second time. They could actually have beaten Germany by three of four, but in the end had to settle for a 2-1 win as Ozil pulled one back at the death from the spot. The Final This will be Italy's first final at a European Championship since Euro 2000. They were defeated 2-1 by France that year. To avoid another disappointment in the final, they will definitely have to improve upon their three draws in four matches at Euro 2012. One of the players to help them do that though is Andrea Pirlo. Pirlo completed 115 passes in the quarter final, that's more passes than England's entire midfield could muster between them. At the age of 33, the 2006 World Cup Winner is still putting in phenomenal performances. He scored the most audacious of penalties against England in the quarter finals. With the pressure well and truly on him to score after Riccardo Montolivo's spot-kick miss, up stepped Pirlo. Another miss would surely mean England would at last, at long last break their duck in the penalty shootout and progress to the semi-finals. No chance. Pirlo coolly chipped the ball straight down the middle, and Joe Hart was sprawled out on the turf in dismay long before the ball dropped into the back of his net. Italy won the shootout 4-2. Italy might not have the galaxy of stars that Spain have at their disposal. They don't have a Torres, an Iniesta, a Xavi or a Fabregas, but what they do have is a midfielder with an invaluable ability to keep the ball and direct the speed of play. If Spain think they are the only team who can play tiki-taka, possession based football, they should look at Pirlo and think twice. Italy are unbeaten against Spain in four years, their last defeat coming in a friendly back in 2008.

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Joseph is an accredited football journalist and has interviewed nearly all of the current 20 Barclay's Premier League managers. He is also a correspondent for Bleacher Report and has written for Caught Offside and Give Me Football.