Euro 2012: Spain, Italy share honours in a gripping encounter
Gdansk: Italy and Spain have begun their respective Euro 2012 campaigns with an absorbing 1-1 draw on Sunday to kick off the action in Group C.
Antonio Di Natale drew first blood for the Azzurri on 60 minutes, coming straight off the substitutes` bench to put his side ahead, but only four minutes later, Cesc Fabregas ensured their opening day ended with a share of the spoils in Gdansk.
The headline news that preceded the match was the inclusion of Cesc Fabregas as the man who would be bestowed with leading the line for the Spaniards in a `false No.9` role, ahead of recognised strikers Fernando Torres and Fernando Llorente.
Meanwhile, coach Cesare Prandelli went with a 3-5-2 formation, with Daniele De Rossi lining up in defence. Emanuele Giaccherini was also given his maiden bow for the Azzurri at left wing-back, and he did no harm to his case for a starting role in the future.
Predictably, inside the first 10 minutes, Spain set out their stall, as Italy were put on the back foot. La Roja threatened to impose their tiqui-taca style in the early stages, but la Nazionale`s wall at the back refused to be beaten, lead by Daniele De Rossi.
Soon after, the first chance of the game fell to David Silva, as the Roma man`s mistimed tackle saw the ball fall to Andres Iniesta, who then laid a pass off for the diminutive Manchester City star. However, his attempt was easily saved by Gianluigi Buffon.
However, the move provided the impetus for Italy to hit back on 13 minutes with an Andrea Pirlo free-kick. Mario Balotelli`s feint allowed the Juventus playmaker to step up and curl an attempt to the right of Iker Casillas, but the goalkeeper parried away.
From there on, Italy gained momentum. Antonio Cassano was next up, collecting Claudio Marchisio`s through ball, but his shot in the box went just wide of the far post with Casillas beaten. Then, the midfielder fired a powerful volley at goal, which was ultimately saved.
Spain seemed to have suddenly lost their cutting edge, but with Iniesta on the ball, they could never be discounted. Italy continued to look more purposeful in their play, but La Roja came steaming back through the Barcelona man, who saw his lobbed effort go just over.
But Italy soon rued their luck as Christian Maggio ventured on another lung-bursting foray down the right, before crossing the ball on the head of an incoming Thiago Motta, but the Brazil-born midfielder`s header was crucially stopped by Casllas.
No changes were witnessed during the break, but Spain came quick out of the blocks. Within moments of the restart Xavi smashed a powerful effort from the edge of the box, but Buffon was again equal, this time diving to his right to beat the ball away.
Iniesta was quick to fire yet another attempt at the Juventus No.1 from distance, before a moment of madness saw Balotelli through on goal with the box gaping, but he wanted far too much time on the ball and was eventually dispossessed by Sergio Ramos.
Prandelli subsequently hauled the temperamental forward off for Antonio Di Natale, who in a matter of minutes superbly latched onto Pirlo`s floated through pass and curled an emphatic finish past Casillas on the hour mark.
However, just four minutes later, Spain took advantage of some uncertain defensive play by the Azzurri, as neat link-up play between Iniesta and Silva saw Fabregas not picked up by Giaccherini, as he ghosted into the box to coolly restore parity.
With only 20 minutes remaining yet more opportunities were fluffed. Substitute Fernando Torres capitalised on a failed offside trap, but his one-on-one with Buffon ended with the grateful goalkeeper putting a foot in to win the ball back.
Moments later, Sebastian Giovinco scooped up a delightful pass into the path of Di Natale, who peeled away from Gerard Pique in the danger area, but he could not connect with the ball as he would have liked, seeing his effort loop just wide of the target.
Torres then was gifted with another opportunity to prove his critics wrong right at the end, but he hesitated in another one-on-one with Buffon, seeing his chip over the goalkeeper go harmlessly over to keep both sides tied after the first game of the tournament.
Livio Caferoglu/ Goal.com