Who will be the hero in the final match of Euro 2012?
Will Andrea Pirlo mastermind another dream result for Italy? Or will Spain add another major trophy to a recent haul that includes the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2008.
Although Spain needed a penalty shootout to edge Iberian rivals Portugal in one semifinal, they arrive in Kiev flush with confidence and attacking options. Loaded with stars like Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Ramos from club powerhouses Barcelona and Real Madrid, Vicente Del Bosque's side is so rich with possession players that he often starts without a traditional striker. Italy, on the other hand, would not be playing in the final if not for the epic performance delivered by the striker at the top of the formation. Balotelli delivered a stirring two-goal performance against Germany to silence his critics -- at least temporarily -- and lift the Azzurri into a battle with La Roja.
Of course, if the final of Euro 2012 goes to penalties then we could all do worse than watching Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon decide the championship of Europe.
STAY TUNED FOR LIVE UPDATES, HIGHLIGHTS THROUGHOUT THE MATCH:
|@ Stevo_football : At the 1934 World Cup, Italy and Spain drew 1-1, resulting in a replay. Which they played THE VERY NEXT DAY. http://t.co/FnL8P3pk|
|@ GoalUK : TEAM NEWS: Spain XI: Casillas; Arbeloa, Pique, Ramos, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Alonso; Silva, Iniesta; Fabregas.|
|@ Now__Football : Italy XI: Buffon; Abate, Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Pirlo, Marchisio, De Rossi, Montolivo; Cassano, Balotelli. #euro2012|
|@ PeterHirdt : ICYMI, Casillas & Buffon will provide the 1st tournament final in int’l soccer history to match GKs with 100+ caps each. #Euro2012 #ESPN|
The festivities on the field in Kiev are as well choreographed as they are absolutely, mind-boggling ridiculous. And, here comes Endless Summer, for perhaps the last time of the summer for many of us.
The players are lined up parallel in the tunnel, set to emerge. Buffon and Ramos both looking as if they've applied 90 minutes worth of product to their hair. Nearly no chatter amongst them.
Mario Balotelli is the last man out and joins his teammates just as the Italian national anthem begins.
Per ESPN, Rafael Nadal has traveled to Kiev to cheer on his countrymen.
After Casillas, Buffon make it out as captains, the Italian keeper puts in his hair clips. It's almost go time.
Spain start and pass it back off the half to open the Euro 2012 Final.
The Italian maestro strides into a ball that came out to him but slices it well wide of Casillas' net. Goal kick to Spain after Italy pushed deep into the left corner.
Spain build up through the middle of the park, beginning to ping together a few passes in succession. Silva's final ball is off and Italy break up the movement.
Cassano tries to send a ball over the top to Balotelli in the area but Ramos is on his hip and jumps to head clear.
Xavi is upended by De Rossi about 40 yards but straight on. Ramos stands over it...
Ramos' kick is always too high and a bit left.
Spain surge up the left wing but the Chiellini cuts out the cross before Silva can get to it. Corner.
Spain locking up the ball, moving it around the midfield. Italy watching, waiting, not chasing recklessly.
A beautiful bit of interplay between Xavi and Cesc at the edge of the area, allows the Barca midfielder to run onto a ball and wallop it toward goa. It's powerful but driven over.
Ramos gets him in the back and he drops. Not much there. Italy have possession when play is stopped.
Xavi finds himself in some space amongst a circle of blue and slots a pass through to Silva but it's a stride behind him and rolls harmlessly into Italy penalty area.
Fabregas takes the ball down to the endline and somehow gets a cross in the air at a ridiculous angle and Silva comes flying in for the header. Stunning goal.
Italy win a free kick in a very dangerous spot at the far end, Pirlo and Balotelli stand over it. Pirlo shoots and it deflects off the wall for a corner.
Casillas just barely gets a finger on the ball off the corner, putting off De Rossi lurking at the far post.
Pirlo fires yet another corner off but Spain again repels it. The Azzurri can no longer calmly let Spain hold possession as clock is now where a red shirt. Tika.. taka.. tick.. tock..
|@ johnleicester : Spain have real eye of tiger look. Fabregas' smarts made that goal, passing to Silva sted taking shot. #ESP1-0 #ITA|
Spain going for the jugular and Italy in a moment of weakness. Chiellini turns it over and Spain pounce and they are pressuring high up the field. The attack is halted when Pirlo hoofs a ball out of play.
With Spain pushing hard for the second goal, Chiellini is off with a heavy limp. Federico Balzaretti is on.
Does left back change further weaken Italy defense? Or is Chiellini's place as much about stature as performance?
Italy moving the ball, searching, holding possession. It comes up the left wing via Balzaretti and gets in to Balotelli momentarily before coming all the way back to the defense and swinging about to the right. Attack fizzles but a solid spell for Italians. They seem to have recovered from the initial letdown after the goal.
Pique sees the first yellow fo the match for a long, sliding tackle in toward Cassano. Del Bosque does not approve. Shakira likely doesn't either.
Xavi picks out Silva in a forward position. As he turns the play toward his left foot, he's overrun by blue shirts and the ball is cleared away. Phenomenal ball by Xavi, quick reaction by Italian defense, including the new man on the field.
Balotelli again the target for a ball up top. Casillas tips it away before it can find the mohawk. The ball takes a lucky bounce for the Spanish keeper and he is able to track it down.
A long, diagonal pass picks out Cassano barging up the left. He smartly turns it, getting defenders wrong-footed and then slots it between the legs of two defenders. Casillas handles the low shot. But a quickly sprung attack by Italy.
Having shifted over to the right, Cassano drives a low strike toward goal from about 23-25 yards and Casillas does well to punch it clear. Italy growing into the match further.
Spain perhaps shaken awake by that Cassano shot is imposing itself on the match a bit more, taking game back to other end. Silva offsides derails latest surge. Spain quickly wins back ball and pressures high up the field.
|@ WesWelker : Pulling for Spain. Italy takes too may dives!!!|
Italy's striker is picked out by Montolivo but he can't get free and gives it back. As Italy swings the ball back centrally, it's picked out by Spain.
Balotelli lets loose with a deep off-target shot.
Some typically, tight-phone-booth passing from Spain up the left sideline feeds Cesc in the center and he sends on Silva, who can't find a shot to conclude the attack.
Xavi sends yet another splendid pass through to the dashing Alba, darting up the from the left. he finishes with aplomb.
|@ KICKTV : I thought #Spain was boring?|
Montolivo with a powerful shot off a quick turn.. but Casillas punches clear.
Big Barzagli booked for a cynical tackle of Iniesta, who had him beaten and was free with the ball down the left.
|@ WhoScored : Spain 2-0 Italy (HT): Shots (on target) 8(3) - 8(3), Possession 53% - 47%, Pass accuracy 86% - 83%, Corners 1 - 3, Tackles 13 - 8|
|@ ESPNStatsInfo : No team has lost at EURO 2012 when leading at halftime (13-0-3). Spain has never lost at EURO when leading at halftime (6-0-1).|