If Spain are to make history and stack together three straight continental and world titles with victory in Sunday's UEFA EURO 2012 final, something no side has ever achieved, how appropriate that it should come against Italy. The final hurdle must always be the most daunting, the most testing, so who better than the Azzurri, who Spain have not beaten in 90 minutes of competitive football since 1920?
There would be a neat symmetry to the achievement if Vicente del Bosque's men were to leave Kyiv's Olympic Stadium having become the first team to retain the Henri Delaunay Cup. Four years ago in Vienna, La Roja won their first tournament in 44 years by defeating Germany in the final of UEFA EURO 2008 – but for every Spaniard who has suffered through decades of raised hopes and dashing disappointments it was the quarter-final against Italy which affirmed a coming of age.
Italy were by a distance their bogey team. Marcos Senna, part of Spain's midfield that night, recalled seeing team-mates "starting to wobble" as belief wavered against the Azzurri in extra time. "The Italy effect was something real," he said.
Yet Cesc Fàbregas's winning spot kick past Gianluigi Buffon changed all that. For Spain it served as the breakthrough moment when the result on the scoreboard proves that you were right to believe and four years on, Spain face the Azzurri again as world as well as European champions. La Roja stand one game away from achieving a footballing first but Cesare Prandelli's Italy will have other ideas as they bid for their second victory in the UEFA European Championship, following a triumph on home soil in 1968.
Italy came within seconds of lifting the trophy in 2000, only to see France wrest it from their grasp, but now opportunity knocks again. Like Spain, they have reached the final unbeaten, surviving a penalty shoot-out along the way; moreover they have done so with a commitment to positive, attacking football.
That was apparent when these teams drew 1-1 in their opening group match in Gdansk and there was evidence not only that Italy are dangerous but that Spain remain wary of them. With good reason: they may have slayed a ghost four years ago but there remains a talented rival to defeat on the pitch. Sit back and savour the spectacle.
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