Draw profits from tight final

Our expert Ben Coley previews Sunday night's Euro 2012 final in Kiev and expects Spain and Italy to repeat their Group C draw.

Last Updated: 01/07/12 at 19:27 Post Comment

Spain can edge a tight battle and win after extra-time

Spain can edge a tight battle and win after extra-time

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Spain v Italy

Spain are odds-on favourites to become the first side in history to win back-to-back European Championships following their penalty shootout win over Portugal in the semi-finals.

Vicente Del Bosque's side appear not to have impressed most judges en route to the final, some inexplicably tired of their one-dimensional approach to winning football matches.

Others cite them as lucky to still be in the competition, but although penalty shootouts aren't necessarily a fair way to resolve a stalemate, they aren't the luck-dependant lotteries some would have you believe.

In reality, we shouldn't have been surprised that a side who've not lost a knockout match since 2006 were able to hold their nerve and eliminate one who have never tasted top-level success.

As for the way they operate, I believe it was Athletic Bilbao coach Marco Bielsa who argued that if Plan A isn't good enough, why should Plan B work? My belief is that Spain are so confident in what they do that nothing scares them now. Not defeat, not penalties, not Italy.

Spain won't be afraid, but they will rightly respect an Italian side who shocked Germany to earn their place in the final.

Andrea Pirlo has reminded us all what a fine player he is during the tournament and we saw in the semi-finals that in Mario Balotelli, Italy have one of the most dangerous strikers on the planet on a going day.

In the aftermath of their 2-1 win, some were quick to point out that Italy have never lost to Germany in a major tournament, and the good news for fans of the Azzurri is that their only defeat to Spain came via a penalty shootout four years ago.

Of course, these sides have met already in this competition, playing out a 1-1 draw in Group C before Spain edged their way to the top of the standings, with Italy unable to beat Croatia.

That takes the historical percentage of draws between the two to 50 per cent, and whichever way you look at it the prospect of another draw here looks more likely than odds on 9/4 imply.

Spain needed extra-time to beat Holland in the last World Cup final, while Italy's victory four years earlier came via penalties. Since this competition was reformatted, two of the four finals have ended level after 90 minutes and the other two were decided by a solitary goal.

Throw in the fact that you have the two best ball-keeping sides in the competition taking part, ones who can also boast solid defences and have conceded just four goals between them in the competition, and a stalemate looks the most likely of the three options.

We also reckon Thursday's Italy v Germany game was very much the exception in terms of early goalmouth action, and will take 11/8 about this game being 0-0 at the break.

Three of Spain's five games have been goalless at the interval, as have two of Italy's, and it took until the 60th minute for the deadlock between these sides to be broken in the Group C encounter.

In the last four European Championship finals, there's been just one first-half goal, courtesy of Fernando Torres four years ago. With Spain likely to operate without him from kick-off once again, it's difficult to envisage anything but a tense start to this game.

Given that we believe this tournament will require extra-time and quite possibly penalties to find a winner, there's some temptation to stick up Italy to win the trophy at 8/5.

However, as cited earlier, there's little doubt that Spain have the belief to go and win this game in extra-time and we'd narrowly favour them in a shootout too, so the prices look just about right.

Verdict: Spain 1 Italy 0 (AET)

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