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Time Spain didn't go home early

Who scores first here has the edge to win the game but look for the possibility of penalties as well. As Turkey has shown it could come down to the very last minute of overtime, writes Diego Maradona on the fourth quarterfinal

sports Updated: Jun 21, 2008 23:50 IST

The last time Spain played Italy in an official competition was at the World Cup 1994 in the USA. Roberto Baggio scored the winning goal in a 2-1 result that sent Italy to the semi-finals and Spain back home once again.

Spain has been the under-performer at senior national team competitions. The last major tournament they won was the European championships in 1964. They haven’t beaten Italy in an official match since the 1920 Antwerp Olympics. Italy, on the other hand, are the world champions and is known to start tournaments slowly, sometimes very slowly like this one, and then gradually find form. So on paper, Italy has the edge of history and big match temperament.

Villa-Torres firm

However, this Spanish team has not lost in 19 games. They beat Russia, Sweden, and Greece easily. They have two exceptional forwards. Fernando Torres exploded in Liverpool scoring 33 goals in 47 games, while David Villa has scored 18 goals in 33 games for his national team. Together they make the classic two-man forward combination. Both are young, Torres is big and strong, Villa is very quick and opportunistic. Despite what the Spanish press say, they work well together.

Spain is a young team with an average age of 26. Italy is the oldest team in the tournament with an average age of 29. Spain is healthy and is starting all its best players. Italy lost its best defender and captain Fabio Cannavaro to injury, and must play without its best player Andrea Pirlo, out for suspension, and without the angry-once-again Gennaro ‘Pit Bull’ Gattuso for the same reason. So for me, Spain is favoured to win this game.

However, don’t discount Italy’s match toughness. In 1994, Tassotti broke Luis Enrique’s nose. This might well be the most physical game in what has been an excellent Euro 2008. Spain is due to win one tournament finally, but for that they must beat Italy, then probably Holland, and then possibly Germany. Not an easy feat.

Luis Aragones, 69, would love to go down in history as the man who brought a title to Spain. He will step down at the end of the tournament in favour of Vicente del Bosque, hopefully with a trophy in his hands.

Donadoni must tinker again

Look for their standard formation of Real Madrid’s Iker Casillas in goal, Carles Puyol of Barcelona in central defence with Carlos Marchena of Valencia. Completing the four-man backline should be Sergio Ramos of Real on the right and Juan Capdevilla of Villarreal on the left. Marcos Senna of Villarreal will play defensive midfield with David Silva, Xavi Hernandez and Andreas Iniesta playing across the midfield line. Upfront, the lethal duo of Fernando Torres and David Villa will prove a handful.

Roberto Donadoni looked ready for the tomato greeting when his team lost 0-3 to Holland, and tied Romania 1-1. The good win over France and Holland’s defeat of Romania saved him from such ignominious fate. He has listened to his critics and changed his formation thrice in as many games. He will have to do so again with Pirlo being suspended.

Uber goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon will play. Gianluca Zambrotta of AC Milan on the right defence, the surprisingly good Giorgio Chiellini of Juventus in the middle with veteran Christian Panucci and the talented Fabio Grosso on the left. In the midfield, Daniele de Rossi has shown great form but will be flanked by the hardworking Milan player Massimo Ambrosini and possibly newcomer Alberto Aquilani. Simone Perrotta is playing an unusual offensive midfield on the left.

Cassano appears to have matured on the national team with Luca Toni being the lone striker. He is a force on his own but has missed easy chances so far. He is due to break out.

Italian wing play could be key

Both goalies are excellent, veterans of a thousand battles for club and country. Buffon has instrumental in Italy’s survival. In defence, veteran Puyol gives Spain the edge but both Grosso and Zambrotta have more speed on the wings and it will be up to Ramos and Capdevila to stop them from rampaging up the sides of the field.

There will be a midfield battle of possession between Xavi Hernandez, Iniesta, David Silva vs Ambrosini, De Rossi, and Camoranesi. Panucci and Chiellini will have to stop Torres and Villa — something no one has done so far. Puyol and Marchena will have to stop the long ball for Toni. Cassano will want to show the Spanish that Real Madrid did not understand his artistic genius. The loss of Pirlo is devastating so I must give Spain a slight edge but the wing play of Grosso and Zambrotta for Toni, and the forwards’s ability to finally score could make the difference. Who scores first here has the edge to win the game but look for the possibility of penalties as well. As Turkey has shown it could come down to the very last minute of overtime.

PMG