Spanish midfielder Andres Iniesta controls the ball during the Euro 2012 football championships semi-final match Portugal vs Spain on June 27, 2012 at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk.
Stage is set
The Euro 2012 final is upon us, with Spain and Italy ready to go to battle on Sunday. Both teams are full of talent, but who will make the biggest impact on the outcome of the match? Read on to find out.
Andrea Pirlo, Italy
Pirlo is having the tournament of his life. Seemingly reborn after a championship season at Juventus, the 33-year-old midfielder is making a case as the player of the Euros, with a series of game-winning and match-steering shows in the center of the field. Effortlessly finding space and shrugging off even the ferocious pressing game Germany tried to employ, Pirlo is the man Spain must contain if they are to win the title.
Gianluigi Buffon, Italy
Pirlo may control the game, but Buffon is the man who saves it. He was brilliant against Germany, swatting away shot after shot and showing control of his area that most keepers can only dream of. A consummate competitor, he also stalked off the field after their win, clearly unhappy. Why? Italy had wasted too many chances at the other end. That kind of fire drives teams, and Italy’s captain has fire in spades.
Mario Balotelli, Italy
“Super Mario” has put the antics aside and scored the big goals during Euro 2012. The co-leader in the Euros’ golden boot race, his winner against Germany will make highlight reels for years to come. If Spain are to prosper, they have to figure out how to keep the tall, strong and deadly Balotelli out of range. Good luck. Is this the Manchester City man’s emergence as a true world superstar? If he comes home with a title: yes
Cesc Fabregas, Spain
The former Arsenal captain has been a key man for Spain, filling in as a “false 9” in Vincent del Bosque’s striker-less system. Expect him to start against a slick Italian side that will try to play an open and expansive game in the hopes of disrupting Spain’s pass-happy system. Cesc can score the big goals, but his size limits him; no one will ever confuse him for a target man.
Andres Iniesta, Spain
Against Portugal, the Barcelona playmaker was shackled and quiet. It showed in Spain’s insipid play. Iniesta has to have the ball and he has to have room to create. When he has both, Spain are the most vicious team on the planet, slicing apart defenses with abandon. When he is off – and he rarely is – they are reduced to a passing team that must play keep-away.
Iker Casillas, Spain
Spain’s captain is often unsung, but he steers the game out of the back, organizes the defense and restarts the attack. In Spain’s best games, he often has little to do which makes his concentration all the more remarkable: he is the rare keeper who can make the big save after sitting idle for 89 minutes. That’s a more valuable asset than most fans realize.