Spain opens title defense against Italy
Gdansk, Poland (Sports Network) - Spain is bidding to become the first international team to win three major competitions in succession, and that quest starts on Sunday in Group C against Italy.
The Spanish will once again enter the tournament as one of the favorites after winning Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup, while Italy is in a familiar position as it deals with another match-fixing scandal in the lead up to a major competition.
Under similar circumstances in 2006, Italy went on to win the World Cup, and the Azzurri will try to deal Spain a major setback in the group opener, although both sides will be expected to reach the knockout round.
While Italy is busy dealing with issues off the field, Spain is focused on putting together another deep tournament run.
Manager Vicente del Bosque has enjoyed unprecedented success in charge of Spain, but he may face his toughest task yet as Spain aims to overcome a pair of key injuries to once again be crowned champions of Europe.
The loss of leading scorer David Villa means that Del Bosque must rely on Euro 2008 hero Fernando Torres for goals, despite the fact that the Chelsea striker has struggled with consistency for the past few seasons.
Veteran defender Carles Puyol will also miss the tournament, leaving a void in the center of Spain's back line that will not be easy to fill.
There are more questions to answer this time around than in previous years for Spain, and Italy is the type of team that can make things difficult in the opening game.
Despite the distractions that go with a match-fixing investigation, Italy has become a more positive team under manager Cesare Prandelli, who has brought a fresh approach to the side.
"The feeling was that we needed to evolve our style, to try and play a little more on the front foot," Prandelli said.
Italy will also be without a potent striker as Villarreal's Giuseppe Rossi is battling a serious knee problem, leaving the scoring duties to be picked up by a trio of forwards in Antonio Cassano, Antonio Di Natale and Mario Balotelli.
Prandelli will also be without defender Andrea Barzagli, who sustained a calf injury in a friendly with Russia.
These two teams played to a 0-0 draw in the quarterfinals of Euro 2008 before Spain won on penalty kicks, and it wouldn't be a surprise in Sunday's match is another close affair.