Sunday’s Euro 2012 final sees holders Spain take on dark horses Italy in Kiev, in what should be a cagey last game to the tournament. Although the world champions go into the game as overwhelming favourites, the manner of the Azzurri’s win over Germany will be a cause for concern for Vicente del Bosque and his team. However, the midfield battle will be one to keep an eye on, as the game may well be decided by whoever gets a grip on possession in the centre of the park.

Spain’s tiki-taka tactics of short and intricate passing has been on display this summer, with the world champions the masters of keeping the ball and passing their opponents into submission. This style mirrors that of Barcelona, and with Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas and Sergio Busquets in the side’s midfield the crossover is an easy one. Along with Xabi Alonso in particular, Spain will look to dominate possession and hence produce the required chances to win the match and the trophy.

Italy however have shown that their midfield is not to be discounted, as the Azzurri strangled a dangerous Germany side in the semi-finals by breaking up their possession in the middle third of the pitch. Andrea Pirlo has been in mercurial form this summer, and although his passing and ability on the ball has caught the eye, his tenacity off it is also a key feature in Italy’s play. Cesare Prandelli has enforcer Daniele De Rossi alongside the Juventus playmaker, and the Roma man shackled Germany lynchpin Bastian Schweinsteiger in the last game sufficiently to bring the favourites to their knees.

These two styles directly contrast each other, as the possession football of Spain comes up against the pressure tactics and counter attack of Italy. La Roja’s formation and team selection will also play a key part in who wins this battle. If Del Bosque opts to play without a recognised out-and-out attacker, with Fabregas the furthest man forward, the Italian defence will look to push higher up the pitch thus compressing the midfield and give the likes of Iniesta, David Silva and co less space to work their magic in. If Fernando Torres or another designated striker plays, Spain will pose a threat in behind the Azzurri rearguard, causing the likes of Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli to retreat, stretching the game out and offering more space in front of the Italian back four.

At the other end Riccardo Montolivo will once more be deployed as a trequartista, playing in behind the two Italian strikers, and it will be the responsibility of Busquets and Alonso to ensure that the AC Milan playmaker does not get the required space to operate. Claudio Marchisio will also break forward from the centre of the park, and although he has not shown it this summer has goals in him.

This key tactical battle will play a huge role in deciding this year’s champions, with the individual match-ups between Pirlo, De Rossi, Alonso and Xavi in particular making for a mouth-watering game.

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Euro 2012 Italy Spain