| KIEV, June 30
KIEV, June 30 Spain have not got to three
successive major finals by worrying too much about their
opponents but Sunday's Euro 2012 decider with Italy might give
coach Vicente Del Bosque a few moustache-stroking moments.
The all-pervasive influence of Andrea Pirlo on Italy's run
to the final means Spain know they have to restrict his time on
the ball - and ensure they mark the Italian front runners more
tightly than many other sides have during the tournament.
The only goal Spain have conceded came when Pirlo briefly
escaped the attentions of his buzzing midfield opponents to set
up Antonio Di Natale and he has been at the heart of most of
Italy's attacks all the way through.
Del Bosque started without a recognised striker when the
teams met in the group stage while Italy flooded the midfield
from the other direction by playing three at the back.
Cesare Prandelli has moved away from that formation
subsequently and been rewarded with a defensive solidity that
has given Pirlo and others time and space to operate.
Spain made little headway with attacking midfielder Cesc
Fabregas as their cutting edge and after they brightened up with
the introduction of striker Fernando Torres, Del Bosque has
flitted between the two systems throughout the tournament.
He can afford to tweak his attacking tactics as his defence
is so reliable. They have not conceded a goal in their nine
tournament knockout games since a 3-1 defeat by France in the
last 16 of the 2006 World Cup.
Italy's goal apart, Spain's defence has not been pierced in
this tournament and Iker Casillas has barely been tested.
That solid foundation gives Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Sergio
Busquets and the remarkable Andres Iniesta the confidence to
play the relentless possession football that has served them so
well over the last four years.
At times in this tournament, however, Spain have been on the
road to nowhere and without an attacking outlet or anyone
running beyond the ball have never looked like killing sides
Del Bosque sprung a surprise by starting with Alvaro Negredo
in the semi-final against Portugal but the unheralded striker
made little impact and a repeat is not on the cards.
With Torres still only showing flashes of his former
sharpness Del Bosque might revert to the Fabregas formation,
perhaps encouraging the midfielder to operate more ambitiously
than in the group game but trusting in his proven big-match
That also gives the wily Spanish coach lots of options from
the bench, with Jesus Navas and the effervescent Pedro able to
add pace and directness alongside a choice of
Prandelli seems to have the easier selection task after
dismissing questions about a return to three at the back.
"Quite frankly, no," he said on Saturday. "Because over the
last few games we have had a lot of balance in the side, but we
have learnt that over the course of a game we could switch to
Italy's system is relatively straightforward with strikers
Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli as willing runners for
Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi, Claudio Marchisio and Riccardo
Montolivo to pick out.
The risk comes when one or more of those midfielders gets
forward in support, leaving midfield holes that Spain can
Balotelli, joint tournament top-scorer with three goals,
could make himself an unlikely hero of Italian soccer if he nabs
a fourth and the way Italy have played en route to the final
there is a fair chance he will get at least one decent
With the last four finals being settled by a one goal
margin, the last two being 1-0, and with two great defences and
goalkeepers in action on Sunday, that one opportunity might be
(Editing by Ken Ferris)