Cesare Prandelli and Vicente del Bosque anticipate a spectacle that befits the occasion when their Italy and Spain teams meet in the UEFA EURO 2012 final to bring down the curtain on a memorable 24 days in Poland and Ukraine.
In contrasting fashion the finalists have been the two most impressive performers in the tournament and, exactly three weeks after an entertaining 1-1 draw in Gdansk, their paths cross again. On the eve of their third meeting in less than 12 months, there was plenty of mutual respect on show in Kyiv – but no little determination either as Spain look for a third successive tournament victory and Italy seek a second European crown.
"We've worked very hard for many years and we'd like victory to crown that work," said Del Bosque, whose side have failed to beat Italy in their last ten competitive meetings, although they did come through their UEFA EURO 2008 quarter-final on penalties. "We cannot look back. Italy have won the World Cup four times; we won EURO four years ago. There's some history but we have to look to the present. We've played similar tournaments: we were in the same group and have both won on penalties. Our style of play is also very similar so there's not a great difference between the teams."
Prandelli therefore believes Italy's best hope lies in an attacking approach, adding: "I really hope we can be positive and take the game to them.
Spain's strength is not only possession, but also the way they win it back. We've got to pick our moments and work a numerical superiority in certain areas. We don't expect to be in charge from the first minute to the last, but we know we can play our own football when the opportunity arises."
That expansive style has produced impressive displays against England and Germany in the knockout stages as the Azzurri's campaign has gathered momentum. "Even in qualifying we tried to play using the strengths of our players," Prandelli explained. "We've risked a little in this approach as it's a difficult route to take, but we need to continue down the same path because it will eventually bear fruit."
The vindication could arrive earlier than even Prandelli might have expected, and Del Bosque was full of praise for his bravery. "
Italy have changed; they started well against us and kept improving so they're worthy rivals for the final," said the Spain coach. "There's been a huge change in Italian football in recent years and they will play as they have for the past few matches. If any team had played like them, they would be in the final too; they have deserved it."
The matchday one draw ended Spain's run of 14 successive competitive victories, although they remain unbeaten in 19 and have not conceded since Antonio Di Natale put Italy in front 419 minutes ago, giving Prandelli plenty of food for thought. "I expect the usual Spain: a brave side that keeps the ball but also presses you," he said. "They've conceded the fewest goals in the tournament and, even when they don't play with a striker, can always create space."
Spain last lost in a UEFA European Championship fixture six years and 28 matches ago and, while both coaches disputed that the remarkable run of Spanish success is "boring", Prandelli recognises the size of his challenge. "Over the last few years, Spain always seem to come out on top. They've shown they're the best team in the world, played their own way and stayed true to their philosophy. We've always said they're the team to beat." His side now have the chance to do just that.
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