Venue: PGE Arena, Gdansk, Poland Kick-Off: 17:00 BST Defending European and World champions Spain open their tournament against a young Italian side determined to prove that their glory days arent behind them.
Spain could be without right-back Alvaro Arbeloa as the Real Madrid player tries to recover from a back problem. However, midfielder Cesc Fabregas has been passed fit after a slight hamstring issue. Sevilla winger Jesus Navas was worried that he might have to be replaced before the opening whistle but the X-ray on his right hand revealed nothing more than severe bruising. Meanwhile, Italy have also had their pre-Euro problems. Centre-back Andrea Barzagli could miss the opening two games of the tournament and coach Cesare Prandelli has been looking at alternatives in that position. The Azzurri have been working on a 3-5-2 formation in training that wouldnt require the extra defender.
Italy actually beat Spain 2-1 last August when the sides met in a friendly in Bari, Alberto Aquilani scored the winning goal six minutes from time. Since then the Italian side has been decimated by all sorts of problems on and off the pitch. Talented striker Giuseppe Rossi wasnt even available for selection thanks to a knee injury that has kept him away from Serie A since October. The 25-year-old would surely have played a big role if he had been fit. Dont forget that only a few months ago AC Milan forward Antonio Cassano was having heart surgery following an ischaemic attack (a small stroke). His lack of match practice at senior international level might have an impact on how well the team start the competition. Another match-fixing scandal has left the defence in a dire situation, particularly as first choice left-back Domenico Criscito has been excluded by Prandelli so that he might clear his name back home. Spain havent had it easy either, manager Vicente del Bosque also had to leave big names out of their squad. Barcelona duo David Villa and Carles Puyol had to pull out of the final cut, leaving holes at either end of the spine of the team. The Spaniards will be hoping that Fernando Torres, revived at Chelsea this season, can plug the gap and score goals for his country. No side has ever retained the European Championship but La Roja are on a 14-competitive-game win streak and will be hoping that they can get off to the best possible start in Poland.
If Spain win the Championship they will be the first side to ever win three international tournaments in a row. Six of the last nine meetings between these two sides have been goalless at half time. Italy only conceded two goals in their qualifying campaign and Buffon had the best shots saved rating of 92.9%. Meanwhile Spains Xavi had the best pass completion rate of anyone in qualifying; 94.9%.