Zeenews Sports Bureau
New Delhi: Come Sunday, world champions Spain will begin their title defence with an aim of making it three in a row. If successful the world number 1-ranked team will be the first one to do so after having won the Euro 2008 and the World Cup 2010.
The three-week tournament being staged by Poland and Ukraine, which kicks off on Friday, will be the last tournament with 16 countries as UEFA has agreed to expand the finals to 24 teams in France in 2016.
Spain would face a tough challenge in their pursuit of another Euro crown from the other contenders in the current tournament, which boasts of 13 of FIFA`s top 20 ranked teams in the finals.
They face a scandal-hit Italy in their opening encounter, but can never be discounted as they are capable of pulling a rabbit out of a hat in such a scenario when major tournaments come around. In 1992, eventual winners Denmark proved that no team can be taken for granted, who came in as a late replacement for banned Yugoslavia. However, if Spain can overcome Italy, they will have less trouble qualifying a group that includes Croatia and Ireland.
However, some believe that La Roja's fluid passing game that has worn down opponents in the past is vulnerable. They are also missing talismanic defender Carles Puyol and all-time record scorer David Villa through injury, while question marks remain over the form of Chelsea striker Fernando Torres and Puyol's Barca central defence partner Gerard Pique. Young central defender Javi Martinez, though, believes they can make up for the absences of Puyol and Villa.
If Spain win, they will become the first team to win two consecutive Euros and a World Cup in between.