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Spain-Italy rematch in historic Euro final

The Associated Press
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 07:27 PM
KIEV, Ukraine -

And so they meet again at Euro 2012.

This time, however, Spain and Italy are playing for the European Championship and a place in the history books.

The Mediterranean rivals meet today in Kiev's Olympic Stadium, three weeks after they drew 1-1 in their opening match of the tournament's group stage.

As the defending champion and World Cup holder, Spain is bidding to win a third straight major title, cementing its place as one of the greatest national teams. It would also match Germany's record of three European Championship titles.

Only the unpredictable Mario Balotelli and a surprising Italy team — orchestrated by Andrea Pirlo — stand between Spain and what many see as its destiny.

Even Italy coach Cesare Prandelli reckons that Spain is the best bet to lift the trophy.

"At the moment, even if I open my eyes, I am still dreaming," Prandelli said after his side's 2-1 victory over Germany in the semifinals, when Balotelli scored both goals.

"Spain remain favorites because of the years of hard work that they have put in. They have been dominant in every game they've played so far."

Spain hasn't lost in a European Championship since 2004 and has already matched West Germany as the only defending champion to return to the final after winning the World Cup. The West Germans managed it in 1976, but subsequently lost to Czechoslovakia following Antonin Panenka's famous chip shot in a penalty shootout.

This final brings together teams with players brazen enough to have successfully copied Panenka's audacious spot kick during their penalty shootouts in the knockout rounds. Spain defender Sergio Ramos used it in the semifinal win over Portugal, after Pirlo employed it against England in the quarterfinals.

It also features the tournament's best defensive team against one of its most exciting attacking squads.

Spain has not conceded a goal since that opening draw with Italy and hasn't been scored upon in nine elimination games at major tournaments. Balotelli, Antonio Cassano and Pirlo are leading one of Italy's top attacking teams in recent history.

Spain's attack has featured a rotating cast of forwards, with attacking midfielder Cesc Fabregas usually being preferred to striker Fernando Torres. Today, coach Vicente del Bosque is likely to repeat the 4-6 formation he deployed against Italy on June 10.

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