GDANSK, POLAND - JUNE 10: Daniele De Rossi of Italy tackles Cesc Fabregas of Spain during the UEFA EURO 2012 group C match between Spain and Italy at The Municipal Stadium on June 10, 2012 in Gdansk, Poland. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Spain Vs. Italy, Euro 2012: Sides Exchange 2nd-Half Attacks But Match Ends At 1-1

Antonio Di Natale came off the bench and bagged a goal to put Italy ahead, but Cesc Fabregas netted an equalizer and the match finished 1-1.

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On Fernando Torres And Spain

Fernando Torres might have been a disappointment for Spain against Italy, but there's no doubt that his introduction made them a better team.

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Spain Vs. Italy, Euro 2012: Di Natale, Fabregas Goals Result In 1-1 Draw

It may not be as surprising as Holland falling to Denmark, but most did not anticipate that Italy would take any points from title-holders Spain. Instead, on Saturday night in Gdansk, the two shared the spoils, leaving room for Croatia or Ireland to take top in Group C. It was substitute Antonio Di Natale that broke the deadlock, scoring in the 60th minute, but Cesc Fabregas responded less than five minutes later with an equaliser for la roja.

When news broke about the selected formations for both sides, tactical nerds knew they were in for a treat. Vincente del Bosque went with a 4-3-3, but without a true striker, playing Fabregas as a false nine. Cesare Prandelli did just as expected, putting the azzurri in a 3-5-2, although some of his selections were slightly questionable (Emanuele Giaccherini? Really?).

The tactical battle may have been interesting in the abstract, but it didn't bring that much excitement to the pitch. For the first half, Spain played their predictable football, passing the ball through the midfield in a pretty sort of way, but barely exerting the effort to make a challenge on goal. Italy, bless their hearts, had a few decent chances -- but someone needs to let Prandelli in on the secret that the Antonio Cassano - Mario Balotelli pairing just isn't working well. Cassano needs much more support up front, while Balotelli often squanders more chances than he creates.

After the break, things appeared much more lively, as both sides started applying more pressure on the opposing defence. About ten minutes after the re-start, Balotelli created a textbook example of why he maybe shouldn't be starting for Italy. After winning an aerial battle against Sergio Ramos, the forward went one-on-one with Iker Casillas. But he took too much time setting up the shot, allowing Jordi Alba the opportunity to slide in for the ball.


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His punishment? Being replaced by Antonio Di Natale. His true punishment? Seeing Toto score just minutes after he entered the pitch. The diminutive striker pounced on a ball from Andrea Pirlo, easily rounding Sergio Ramos. There was nothing Casillas could do as Di Natale looped the ball over his shoulder to settle in the far corner of the net.

Celebrations for Italy were short-lived, however. Fabregas was out to prove himself and his inclusion. He picked up a pass from David Silva and, with Giaccherini nowhere to be seen, easily nicked the ball past Gigi Buffon. 65 minutes had passed, all was equal, and that is how it would stay.

But the storyline doesn't end there, of course. With fifteen minutes left to play, Fabregas was brought off, with Fernando Torres on in his place. Cue the jokes and taunts -- almost immediately, el nino wasted a prime scoring opportunity. He sprung the offside trap and tore toward goal, but inexplicably hesitated, allowing Buffon the chance to tackle the ball off his feet. He also managed to chip the ball over an empty net in the 85th minute, meaning it's likely we'll see less of 'Nando and more of this false nine.

Surprisingly enough, the match wasn't marked by minute upon minute of diving, rolling, and heartfelt appeals to the referee. It was, however, littered with yellow cards: Spain picked up three and Italy earned four. One can only hope this means we see changes to the lineups in the other Group C matches.

Spain: Iker Casillas; Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Alvaro Arbeloa; Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso, Xavi Hernandez; Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas (Fernando Torres 74), David Silva (Jesus Navas 57).

Italy: Gianluigi Buffon; Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Daniele De Rossi; Emanuele Giaccherini, Thiago Motta (Antonio Nocerino 89), Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio, Christian Maggio; Antonio Cassano (Sebastian Giovinco 65), Mario Balotelli (Antonio Di Natale 57).

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Spain Vs. Italy, Euro 2012: Cesc Fabregas Equalizes For Spain

For those wondering how long it would take for Spain to respond to Italy taking the lead through a goal by Antonio Di Natale, the answer is: less than three minutes. Cesc Fabregas stepped forward to prove that, despite not being a true striker, he can make the forward runs and he can score the goals. He easily skipped away from the inexperienced Emanuele Giaccherini to drive the ball straight into the back of the net.

As celebrations ensued, both sides took the opportunity to make a change. David Silva made way for Jesus Navas, showing that Vincente del Bosque clearly believes that Fabregas is enough and no strikers are needed. As for the azzurri, their change was predictable -- take off Antonio Cassano, put on Sebastian Giovinco. It's the forward partnership that has been drilled in training, so god forbid we keep Cassano and Di Natale on at the same time. It seems this adherence to a creed will likely come back to haunt Italy.

Follow along here, our Spain vs. Italy, Euro 2012 StoryStream, for live coverage of the match. For more on Euro 2012 and the entire world of football, follow @SBNationSoccer on Twitter.

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Spain Vs. Italy, Euro 2012: Substitute Antonio Di Natale Gives Italy The Lead

Circumstances have forced Italy into a change, with Cesare Prandelli bringing on Antonio Di Natale to replace Mario Balotelli. Less than three minutes later, that substitution paid off, as Toto gave Italy a 1-0 lead over title-holders Spain.

The ball came from who else but Andrea Pirlo, who set Di Natale free up the middle. The diminutive striker easily sped past Sergio Ramos to face Iker Casillas one on one. The Spanish keeper could do nothing as Toto easily looped the ball over his shoulder, sending it flying into the far corner of the net.

What now, Spain? A bit more pressure, perhaps? The introduction of Fernando Torres? You have to think there will be a response from la roja, who certainly don't want to start this tournament off on the wrong foot.

Follow along here, our Spain vs. Italy, Euro 2012 StoryStream, for live coverage of the match. For more on Euro 2012 and the entire world of football, follow @SBNationSoccer on Twitter.

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Spain Vs. Italy, Euro 2012: Halftime Score, 0-0 But Better Than Expected

Spain and Italy are keeping to the script stylistically, as both teams are a lot more concerned with keeping the ball than they are with attacking the goal, but it's been a better game than one might expect given those goals. There's been plenty of pretty passing and some decent shots from both teams, but but goalkeepers and defenses have been on their games early in a 0-0 stalemate.

Daniele De Rossi, best known for his usual exploits as a defensive midfielder, is playing as a central defender in Italy's back three and he's been the man of the match to this point. Without a true No. 9 to take advantage of the fact that he's not actually a defender, De Rossi has won every challenge he's entered. It's a brilliant tactic for Italy, actually. If your opponent is going to play an attacking midfielder at striker, why not play a defensive midfielder at center back?

Even though Spain could probably do with a center forward and Fernando Llorente could do a lot to change this game, Spain's problems aren't exactly due to a lack of a focal point in attack. The interchanging between the front three has been good, but David Silva have missed a couple of chances, while all of Italy's back three have played very well. Spain's biggest chance came just before the half, with Andres Iniesta putting a shot over the bar after setting himself up with a great first touch on a through ball.

Italy's biggest concern heading into the second half is probably going to be Mario Balotelli and what exactly they should do with him. He's been wasteful going forward and he already has a yellow card. They'd probably be well served asking Antonio Di Natale to warm up at halftime unless they want to end up with 10 men before the game is over. Interestingly enough, their best chance also came right at the end of the half, through their box-to-box midfielder. Antonio Cassano set it up with a great ball into the box for Thiago Motta, who forced a good save from Iker Casillas with his header.

We have live coverage of the game in our Spain vs. Italy, Euro 2012 StoryStream. For more on Euro 2012 and the entire world of football, follow @SBNationSoccer on Twitter.

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Spain Vs. Italy, Euro 2012: Lineups

Come the end of the Euro 2012 match between Spain and Italy, there's a good chance that Cesare Prandelli will be branded as either a genius or an incompetent madman. He's selected a three-man defense for Italy, and his team is littered with guys who are either playing out of position or not currently first choice for their clubs. In the case of young left back Emanuele Giaccherini, he's picked a player who is both.

Vicente Del Bosque's team is an adventurous one as well. He's picked midfielder Cesc Fabregas as a center forward, giving a vote of no confidence to Fernando Torres.

Spain Lineup (4-3-3): Iker Casillas; Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Alvaro Arbeloa; Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso, Xavi Hernandez; Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, David Silva

Italy Lineup (3-5-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Daniele De Rossi; Emanuele Giaccherini, Thiago Motta, Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio, Christian Maggio; Antonio Cassano, Mario Balotelli

Kickoff is at 12 p.m. ET, 6 p.m. local time from Gdansk, Poland. You can catch the game on ESPN in the USA, BBC One in the UK and TSN in Canada.

We'll have live coverage of the game in our Spain vs. Italy, Euro 2012 StoryStream. For more on Euro 2012 and the entire world of football, follow @SBNationSoccer on Twitter.

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