The defending champs Spain made their Euro 2012 debut against Italy in the first match of Group C on Sunday in Gdansk, but their normally nimble offense was sluggish in getting into gear.
In a move that had many Spain fans scratching their heads, head coach Vincente del Bosque opted to start Cesc Fabregas in an attacking midfield trio rather than go with the team's true striker, Fernando Torres. Torres came into the game eventually as a sub, but Spain's offense mostly lacked the finishing touch in the first half, much to the delight of the Italians.
Italy matched up against the defending champs well, holding Spain's formidable offense at bay while creating a number of opportunities for themselves. The first half ended without a goal from either side, but Italy went into the locker rooms having played the better half.
The Italians struck first in the second half, although it was their second big chance that ended up yielding the goal. Mario Balotelli, taking advantage of a mistake by Spanish defender Sergio Ramos and with no one to beat but Iker Casillas in the Spanish goal, hesitated too long in front of the goal, seemingly daring Casillas to blink first. That gave Ramos enough time to sprint back to the goal and break up the play. It was Balotelli's last play of the match, as he was subbed for Antonio Di Natal immediately after.
The sub proved to yielde immediate results for Italy coach Cesare Prandelli, as Di Natale scores on one of his first touches thanks to a through-ball from Pirlo in the 61st minute.
Italy's lead didn't last long, however, as a momentary lapse in what was an otherwise stellar defense allowed Spain to even the score in the 63rd minute. David Silva passed in the area to Febregas, who finished with a low strike into the net.
The goal scorer, Fabregas, was substituted for Torres in the 73rd minute, giving Spain a true striker. One his first touch of the match, Spain's 'El Nino' from Champions League winners Chelsea made a solo run through the Italian back line off an excellent through ball from Jesus Navas. Torres challenges Italian keeper Gianluigi Buffon one-on-one, but Buffon was able to disrupt the attack before Torres could get a shot off. Torres squandered another one-on-one opportunity when he chipped a shot over Buffon's head but landed it on top of the netting in the goal.
The second match of Spain and Italy's Group C gets underway later on Sunday in Poznan, with Ireland taking on Croatia.
Author: Matt Zuvela
Editor: Sherelle Jacobs