In terms of opening games at a major tournament, Italy's does not come any harder. Cesare Prandelli's charges start UEFA EURO 2012 against the reigning European and world champions in what promises to be a baptism of fire but defender Giorgio Chiellini is not only confident the Azzurri can match Spain; he insists "we can beat them".
Though they have been shorn of David Villa and Carles Puyol, Chieillini does not subscribe to the view that Spain are no longer the indomitable force that has ruled the international stage for the last four years, yet he is nonetheless confident his side can overcome the tournament favourites.
"Spain have proved that even without certain individuals, they are not just playing from memory," he told UEFA.com. "Even in their recent friendlies they fielded some new players who proved they have as much quality up front [as the usual starters]. They are a team very much like the one of four years ago that won everything."
That side eliminated Italy in a quarter-final penalty shoot-out as they embarked on a winning cycle by triumphing at UEFA EURO 2008, but Chiellini believes Prandelli's squad can break Spain's stranglehold. "We have great motivation and belief that we can win this game," said the Juventus centre-back, who won his 50th cap against the United States in February. "We will not wait in defence for the odd counterattack because that is not in our nature. We will try to respect our opponents and try to do what we have been doing over the past two years – play good football."
Playing the beautiful game is a philosophy close to coach Prandelli's heart and Chiellini, who has completely recovered from a thigh strain that sidelined him for three weeks, is anticipating a spectacle in Gdansk on Sunday. "The EUROs are so short that every game is very important, if not decisive. We are well aware that it will be a difficult start, the first game is always complicated. We will take to the pitch aware of the great qualities of our opponents but also with the knowledge that we can play our game, that we can win this game. We will try and match them but also cause them problems with our qualities. In all probability it will be a very exciting game."
Much of the build-up to Italy's tournament has focused on the injury to Andrea Barzagli, with Cagliari Calcio defender Davide Astori cutting short a holiday in Miami to join the squad as cover for Chiellini's Juventus club-mate. Prandelli has experimented with different ideas in training, yet Chiellini, who made his own EURO bow four years ago following an injury to Fabio Cannavaro, stresses that attitude is more important than any tactical tinkering.
"Regardless of the tactics, having the right attitude and the desire to help each other out is the most important thing," said the 27-year-old, who played in various formations this season as Juventus claimed the Serie A title. "Our coach has a great deal of experience and in the next few days he will evaluate the best way for the team to play. We have all played at a high level and have played in many different formations so over the next few days we will be able to see what the coach thinks is best for the team. For me, though, tactics are all relative, other factors count."
©UEFA.com 1998-2016. All rights reserved.