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Italy vs. Spain: Euro 2012 Group C Match Features Defending Champs

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From left, Italy's Mario Balotelli, Sebastian Giovinco, Andrea Pirlo, Gianluigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini listen to coach Cesare Prandelli during the official training on the eve of the Euro 2012 soccer championship Group C match between Spain and Italy in Gdansk, Poland, Saturday, June 9, 2012.
From left, Italy's Mario Balotelli, Sebastian Giovinco, Andrea Pirlo, Gianluigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini listen to coach Cesare Prandelli during the official training on the eve of the Euro 2012 soccer championship Group C match between Spain and Italy in Gdansk, Poland, Saturday, June 9, 2012.

By Adam Scime, Goal.com

The 2008 winner starts the defense of its title at the finals facing another European giant, but recent events have seemingly weakened Cesare Prandelli's side.

PROBABLE LINEUPS

SPAIN
Casillas
Arbeloa, Ramos, Pique, Alba
Xabi Alonso, Busquets
Silva, Xavi, Iniesta
Torres

ITALY
Buffon
Bonucci, De Rossi, Chiellini
Maggio, T. Motta, Pirlo, Marchisio, B'retti
Balotelli, Cassano

Spain will have to go through Euro 2012 without influential duo David Villa and Carles Puyol, who were ruled out of the competition before it started due to injury.

Therefore, Chelsea striker Fernando Torres, who has been inconsistent over the last 18 months, will likely be given the nod by coach Vicente del Bosque to start up front, although Athletic Bilbao's Fernando Llorente is another option.

At the back, due to Puyol's absence, Sergio Ramos should slot in at center back with Alvaro Arbeloa at right back. Meanwhile, midfielder Cesc Fabregas may not be risked from the start after picking up a thigh problem in the Copa del Rey final but Juan Mata and Santi Cazorla will be hoping for a chance in more attacking roles.

Italy has more than its fair share of problems, with an investigation into a betting scandal resulting in Domenico Criscito being cut from the team, first-choice striker Giuseppe Rossi out of the tournament due to ligament damage and Andrea Barzagli being sidelined for the first two matches with a calf strain.

Defender Giorgio Chiellini missed the Azzurri's 3-0 friendly loss to Russia, but has claimed he is fully recovered and should start at the back. Midfielder Daniele De Rossi is likely to move into a three-man defense as Prandelli switches from a 4-3-1-2 to a 3-5-2 formation.

Emanuele Giaccherini and Federico Balzaretti will battle it out for a spot on the left of midfield but Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli are expected to continue their partnership up front.

DID YOU KNOW?
  • Spain has an all-time record of W8 D11 L10 versus Italy, but seven of those victories have come in friendly matches.
  • La Furia Roja have won an impressive 41 of their last 45 competitive matches and 14 of them in a row.
  • On its to the title at Euro 2008, Spain beat the Azzurri in a penalty shootout after a 0-0 draw at the quarterfinal stage.
  • Goalkeeper Iker Casillas recently earned his 73rd clean sheet with Spain in a 2-0 friendly win over Serbia, surpassing the international record set by Netherlands' Edwin van der Sar.

  • Italy last faced Spain in a friendly in August 2011, winning 2-1 in Bari with goals from Riccardo Montolivo and Alberto Aquilani.

  • Cassano was the top-scorer for Italy during its qualifying campaign, scoring six goals.

  • The Italians have won only two of their last nine games at the European Championship, drawing five and losing the other two.
  • None of the players in Prandelli's squad have scored more than 10 goals for their country with Antonio Di Natale and Daniele De Rossi both at that mark.

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