EURO 2012: SPAIN STAND ON THE BRINK

Posted on: Fri 29 Jun 2012

It says much about the standards Spain have set in recent years that even having secured a place in the Euro 2012 Final - their third successive major tournament final appearance - there has been a distinct lack of praise flowing in their direction.

However, with only Italy now standing in their way of becoming arguably the greatest international side of all-time, Vicente Del Bosque will be more than happy to see his side head into tomorrow night's showdown seemingly with it all still to prove.

Chelsea's Fernando Torres - scorer of the winning goal in the final four years ago - has started twice for the holders and come off the bench on a couple of occasions as well, but it remains to be seen whether he will be given the nod tomorrow night, while Juan Mata has been an unused substitute in every game thus far.

Del Bosque made the controversial decision to name a starting eleven devoid of a traditional striker in Spain's opening group game, interestingly against tomorrow night's opponents, and while it was by no means a poor performance, it wasn't until the introduction of Torres midway through the second half that they began to look a serious threat in the final third.

The Blues' forward started the subsequent match against Republic of Ireland and scored a brace in a 4-0 win, but while he retained his place for the final group game against Croatia, he was substituted with the match still goalless as Spain, with Fabregas as the most advanced player, scored late on to win 1-0.

The quarter-final saw Del Bosque revert back to using the Barcelona man as the focal point of his attack and, in what was arguably their most impressive performance of the tournament thus far, it worked a treat as they swept France aside 2-0.

However, many Spaniards have struggled to understand the policy adopted by the coach throughout the competition, with Athletic Bilbao's Fernando Llorente yet to even feature, and it's no exaggeration to say that whatever decision Del Bosque opts for in terms of who - if anybody - will spearhead the Spain attack, could go a long way to deciding the destination of the trophy.

By contrast, the Italians have been one of the surprise packages of the tournament. Not a phrase which a nation famed for its ability to produce the goods when it matters most will be too familiar with, but heading into the competition it would be fair to say that expectation levels among the Azzuri fanatics were fairly low, particularly in comparison to years gone by.

Cesare Prandelli's side may have needed penalties to dispose of a disappointing England in the quarter-finals but, in truth, they were worthy winners, and while their semi-final elimination of a hotly-tipped Germany may have raised a few eyebrows, it came as no surprise to a determined, focused group of players who have improved with every game.

Midfielder Andrea Pirlo has been the outstanding player of the tournament thus far, while the controversial Mario Balotelli, scorer of both goals against Germany, appears to be hitting form just at the right time.

When the two sides met earlier in the competition, Spain needed a Fabregas equaliser to cancel out Antonio De Natale's opener, and this one looks set to be equally as tight.

If Spain can reproduce the type of form which has seen them dominate international football for the last four years, it's difficult to envisage Italy stopping them, but the momentum at present appears to be with Prandelli's side, and that, above all else, suggests we could be in for a cracker.