By Adam Scime,

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.


Arbeloa, Ramos, Pique, Alba
Xabi Alonso, Busquets
Silva, Xavi, Iniesta

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.


  • 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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  • Poland

    Euro 2012 Schedule: <br> <br> vs. Greece, June 8; vs. Russia, June 12; vs. Czech Republic, June 16. <br> <br> How the team qualified: Co-host. <br> <br> Euro 2008 Result: First Round. <br> <br> Best Result: First Round (2008). <br> <br> FIFA Ranking: 62nd. <br> <br> Coach: Franciszek Smuda (Poland). <br><br> Top Players: Jakub Blaszczykowski, Robert Lewandowski, Wojciech Szczesny. <br><br> Playing at home will give Poland a huge boost, but it could still be tough to make it out of the first round. With the Netherlands, Germany and Portugal as possible quarterfinal opponents from Group B, the host nation is unlikely to make it into the semifinals.

  • Greece

    Euro 2012 Schedule: vs. Poland, June 8; vs. Czech Republic, June 12; vs. Russia, June 16. <br><br> How the team qualified: Won Group F. <br><br> Euro 2008 Result: First Round. <br><br> Best Result: Champion (2004). <br><br> FIFA Ranking: 15th. <br><br> Coach: Fernando Santos (Portugal). <br><br> Top Players: Fanis Gekas, Georgios Samaras, Vasilis Torosidis. <br><br> The Euro 2004 champions were drawn in a relatively easy group and have an excellent record under coach Fernando Santos (7-3-0 in qualifying), but getting through the first round of a major tournament still isn't easy. Since their victory over Portugal eight years ago, the Greeks failed to get out of the group stage at Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup.

  • Russia

    Euro 2012 Schedule: vs. Czech Republic, June 8; vs. Poland, June 12; vs. Greece, June 16. <br><br> How the team qualified: Won Group B. <br><br> Euro 2008 Result: Semifinals. <br><br> Best Result: Champion (1960, as Soviet Union). <br><br> FIFA Ranking: 13th. <br><br> Coach: Dick Advocaat (Netherlands). <br><br> Top Players: Andrei Arshavin, Pavel Pogrebnyak, Igor Akinfeev. <br><br> The Russians excelled at the last European Championship, but despite winning their qualifying group last year they are not expected to be among the contenders in Poland and Ukraine. But with Arshavin and Pogrebnyak up front, they should be scoring plenty of goals.

  • Czech Republic

    Euro 2012 Schedule: vs. Russia, June 8; vs. Greece, June 12; vs. Poland, June 16. <br><br> How the team qualified: Second in Group I, beat Montenegro in playoffs. <br><br> Euro 2008 Result: First Round. <br><br> Best Result: Champion (1976, as Czechoslovakia). <br><br> FIFA Ranking: 27th. <br><br> Coach: Michal Bilek (Czech Republic). <br><br> Top Players: Petr Cech, Tomas Rosicky, Jaroslav Plasil. <br><br> The Czechs needed to go through the playoffs to reach Euro 2012. Heading into the final tournament, the 1976 champions are the lowest-ranked team of the 14 qualifiers at No. 29. Only co-hosts Poland and Ukraine, who qualified automatically, are ranked lower.

  • Netherlands

    Euro 2012 Schedule: vs. Denmark, June 9; vs. Germany, June 13; vs. Portugal, June 17. <br><br> How the team qualified: Won Group E. <br><br> Euro 2008 Result: Quarterfinals. <br><br> Best Result: Champion (1988). <br><br> FIFA Ranking: Fourth. <br><br> Coach: Bert van Marwijk (Netherlands). <br><br> Top Players: Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben. <br><br> The World Cup runners-up were put into the toughest group, but they should still be able to make it into the quarterfinals with Van Persie, Robben and Sneijder all threats up front. The team's final match against Portugal is likely to be decisive.

  • Denmark

    Euro 2012 Schedule: vs. Netherlands, June 9; vs. Portugal, June 13; vs. Germany, June 17. <br><br> How the team qualified: Won Group H. <br><br> Euro 2008 Result: Did not qualify. <br><br> Best Result: Champion (1992). <br><br> FIFA Ranking: Ninth. <br><br> Coach: Morten Olsen (Denmark). <br><br> Top Players: Daniel Agger, Christian Eriksen, Nicklas Bendtner. <br><br> Although the Danes aren't the lowest-ranked team in the group, they will be the biggest outsiders. The 1992 champions will likely need all the other teams to beat each other for them to sneak through.

  • Germany

    Euro 2012 Schedule: vs. Portugal, June 9; vs. Netherlands, June 13; vs. Denmark, June 17. <br><br> How the team qualified: Won Group A. <br><br> Euro 2008 Result: Runner-up. <br><br> Best Result: Champion (1972 and 1980 as West Germany, and 1996). <br><br> FIFA Ranking: Third. <br><br> Coach: Joachim Loew (Germany). <br><br> Top Players: Thomas Mueller, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mesut Oezil. <br><br> Germany reached the final at Euro 2008 and the semifinals at the World Cup two years later, and they should be getting better. Schweinsteiger has become the heart of the team, but Mueller, Mario Gomez and Oezil are the ones most likely to provide the goals.

  • Portugal

    Euro 2012 Schedule: vs. Germany, June 9; vs. Denmark, June 13; vs. Netherlands, June 17. <br> <br> How the team qualified: Second in Group H, beat Bosnia-Herzegovina in playoffs. <br><br> Euro 2008 Result: Quarterfinals. <br><br> Best Result: Runner-up (2004). <br><br> FIFA Ranking: 10th. <br><br> Coach: Paulo Bento (Portugal). <br><br> Top Players: Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe, Nani. <br><br> Cristiano Ronaldo will have another chance to shine on the big stage, and he will have to carry Portugal if the Euro 2004 finalists want to make it into the quarterfinals. Among the top players in the world, Ronaldo has so far failed to play his best when wearing a Portugal shirt.

  • Spain

    Euro 2012 Schedule: vs. Italy, June 10; vs. Ireland, June 14; vs. Croatia, June 18. <br><br> How the team qualified: Won Group I. <br><br> Euro 2008 Result: Champion. <br><br> Best Result: Champion (1964, 2008). <br><br> FIFA Ranking: First. <br><br> Coach: Vicente del Bosque (Spain). <br><br> Top Players: Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Iker Casillas. <br><br> The defending champions from Spain are many people's favorite to win another major title. The Spanish finally ended their 44-year drought at major tournaments when they beat Germany in the Euro 2008 final in Vienna, and then followed by winning their first World Cup trophy two years ago in Johannesburg. With Xavi and Iniesta controlling play, they are a good bet to make it three in a row.

  • Italy

    Euro 2012 Schedule: vs. Spain, June 10; vs. Croatia, June 14; vs. Ireland, June 18. <br><br> How the team qualified: Won Group C. <br><br> Euro 2008 Result: Quarterfinals. <br><br> Best Result: Champion (1968). <br><br> FIFA Ranking: 12th. <br><br> Coach: Cesare Prandelli (Italy). <br><br> Top Players: Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Pirlo, Mario Balotelli. <br><br> The Italians have been on the decline since winning their fourth World Cup title in 2006, and despite winning their qualifying group they are not expected to challenge for the Euro 2012 championship. But if Balotelli can showcase his skill, Italy could mount a championship run.

  • Ireland

    Euro 2012 Schedule: vs. Croatia, June 10; vs. Spain, June 14; vs. Italy, June 18. <br><br> How the team qualified: Second in Group B, beat Estonia in playoffs. <br><br> Euro 2008 Result: Did not qualify. <br><br> Best Result: Quarterfinals (1964). <br><br> FIFA Ranking: 18th. <br><br> Coach: Giovanni Trapattoni (Italy). <br><br> Top Players: Robbie Keane, Shay Given, Glenn Whelan. <br><br> After the disappointment of missing out on the last World Cup because of a handball against France, the Irish made it through to their second European Championship. Coached by Italian veteran Trapattoni, the Irish have a team made up mostly of English Premier League players.

  • Croatia

    Euro 2012 Schedule: vs. Ireland, June 10; vs. Italy, June 14; vs. Spain, June 18. <br><br> How the team qualified: Second in Group F, beat Turkey in playoffs. <br><br> Euro 2008 Result: Quarterfinals. <br><br> Best Result: Quarterfinals (1996, 2008). <br><br> FIFA Ranking: Eighth. <br><br> Coach: Slaven Bilic (Croatia). <br><br> Top Players: Luka Modric, Danijel Pranjic, Darijo Srna. <br><br> The Croats have struggled since qualifying for Euro 2008, missing out on the last World Cup. But they finished second in their qualifying group and beat Euro 2008 semifinalist Turkey in a playoff. To make it through the first round in Poland and Ukraine, the Croats will likely need to beat Italy.

  • Ukraine

    Euro 2012 Schedule: vs. Sweden, June 11; vs. France, June 15; vs. England, June 19. <br><br> How the team qualified: Co-host. <br><br> Euro 2008 Result: Did not qualify. <br><br> Best Result: Qualifying playoffs (2000). <br><br> FIFA Ranking: 52nd. <br><br> Coach: Oleg Blokhin (Ukraine). <br><br> Top Players: Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, Oleksandr Shovkovskiy, Serhiy Nazarenko. <br><br> Ukraine has never before played at the European Championship, missing out on all four tournaments since it split from the Soviet Union. But, as usual, home advantage should give the co-hosts a boost in what is likely to be a tough group.

  • Sweden

    Euro 2012 Schedule: vs. Ukraine, June 11; vs. England, June 15; vs. France, June 19. <br><br> How the team qualified: Best second-placed team in qualifying. <br><br> Euro 2008 Result: First Round. <br><br> Best Result: Semifinals (1992). <br><br> FIFA Ranking: 17th. <br><br> Coach: Erik Hamren (Sweden). <br><br> Top Players: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Kim Kallstrom, Johan Elmander. <br><br> With Ibrahimovic on the field, the Swedes should not be counted out. The AC Milan striker can score some amazing goals, but he'll have to get through the French and English defenses if Sweden is to have a hope of making a run at the title.

  • France

    Euro 2012 Schedule: vs. England, June 11; vs. Ukraine, June 15; vs. Sweden, June 19. <br><br> How the team qualified: Won Group D. <br><br> Euro 2008 Result: First Round. <br><br> Best Result: Champion (1984, 2000). <br><br> FIFA Ranking: 14th. <br><br> Coach: Laurent Blanc (France). <br><br> Top Players: Franck Ribery, Karim Benzema, Samir Nasri. <br><br> After infighting derailed their chances at the 2010 World Cup, France coach Laurent Blanc seems to have the team back on track. A two-time European champion, the French will be tough to stop with hard-running Ribery and Nasri in the attack.

  • England

    Euro 2012 Schedule: vs. France, June 11; vs. Sweden, June 15; vs. Ukraine, June 19. <br> How the team qualified: Won Group G. <br> Euro 2008 Result: Did not qualify. <br><br> Best Result: Semifinals (1996). <br><br> FIFA Ranking: Sixth. <br><br> Coach: Roy Hodgson (England). <br><br> Top Players: Wayne Rooney, Joe Hart, John Terry. <br><br> The English will again be looking to win their first European Championship, but will arrive with an aging defense, a new coach and a suspended Rooney (for the first two matches). If the English don't win the group but still advance, a possible quarterfinal match against Spain could be the end.