bill-swift - June 30, 2012
And then there were two. After just over three weeks of tremendous football, which has been interspersed with some dire refereeing decisions, the occasional dive and way too much racist chanting, Euro 2012 will finally be decided by a match between the Italians and the Spanish.
Observational football fans will know that this is the second time that these two nations have competed in this year's tournament, with their opening Group C encounter having finished 1-1. But this is different. Both of these teams knew that they had two more games after that to reclaim any lost ground, now they are simply competing for the right to call themselves the best footballers in Europe.
Many people will believe that Italy have the most to lose. Spain won Euro 2008 and then followed up this success with the 2010 World Cup, so their place amongst the pantheons of world football greats is secure.
What difference would another European Championships make?
Well, for one thing it would be an unprecedented third national trophy in a row for the Iberians.
Only Germany between 1972 - 1976 have competed in three finals and they ended up losing the 76 Euro Championships to Czechoslovakia. Also, this Spanish team is filled with winners who compete at the highest level of the game. Claiming cups, medals and honours is what they do best and Sunday will be no different.
Italy go into this game however having already overachieved. Cesare Prandelli's men entered the tournament with a giant cloud of scandal and doubt hanging over them but they have restored some semblance of pride to the nation with their performances.
Andrea Pirlo has been mercurial. Mario Balotelli has delivered when it mattered. Antonio Cassano, who has overcome a stroke to play in this tournament, has been the perfect attacking foil. Whilst the rest of the efforts from the squad's midfielders and defenders have been harshly overlooked.
It would take one massive final effort from the Italians to add to their 1968 win, but they have proved everyone wrong so far with their triumphs. If they can stave off fatigue for just 90, maybe 120,more minutes I feel that they'll have the guile and intelligence to defeat Spain, who at times have looked tepid and arrogant.
However if Vincent Del Bosque's men can find their form they could prove to be unstoppable. It's all up in the air!
I'm going to go for a 2-1 Italian victory after extra time.
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