Wondering what's going to happen in Sunday's highly anticipated Group C match, pitting title-holders Spain against underachieving Italy? In a nutshell: pass. pass. pass. fall over. appeal to the referee. pass. pass. pass. pass. Spain score in the 84th minute and take all three points, but no one notices as they've all fallen asleep.
Yeah, Spain are pretty -- and I do mean that in multiple ways. No one is disputing that fact, as far as I can tell. But at some point, it just makes you want to scream, "Do something already!" Instead, the Spanish midfield will continue to hold the ball, shunting it around and showing just how precious they really are.
Bitter? Perhaps. But I'm a jaded Italy fan fearing the worst for a team that doesn't so much have chinks in its armour as is going around wearing bubble wrap and thinking it's bulletproof. The 3-0 defeat to Russia prior to the tournament's beginning showed just how far the team had fallen. The azzurri had allowed just two goals during qualification, and suddenly they're gushing through like a geyser in Yellowstone.
The question for the match against Spain is how Italia will set up its defence. Against Russia, the back four of Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli, Federico Balzaretti and Christian Maggio failed dismally, particularly when Gianluigi Buffon wasn't around to rescue them. Now, Barzagli is out with injury but, fortunately for the Italians, Giorgio Chiellini returns. But will he take his place in a back three, and if so, who's going to step in as a centre-back? There are rumours that Daniele De Rossi will drop into defence, which wouldn't be the worst idea in the world. Pushing Maggio up to wingback, the position he's grown accustomed to with Napoli, will continue to stimulate the attack and leave the defence less frail. Yet to shift the side into an unfamiliar (well, unfamiliar for the nazionale) 3-5-2 for their first match could leave them in even greater shambles.
A silver lining, though: Spain's defence ain't that great, either. Carles Puyol is out with injury, leaving Sergio Ramos to step in at centre-back, where he's rarely played with Gerard Piqué. Álvaro Arbeloa will take up position on the right and Jordi Alba on the left -- not exactly the most stalwart of defences. With Andrea Pirlo orchestrating all in the midfield, the azzurri attack can certainly apply plenty of pressure. What's needed, though, is decent finish, and relying on Mario Balotelli likely won't do Italy much good. Antonio Cassano is still great, but he missed much of the season with AC Milan, and his own finishing often leaves something to be desired. Many are hoping Antonio Di Natale or Sebastian Giovinco will step in instead, but Cesare Prandelli will almost certainly not take that chance.
And again, Spain have similar issues, trying to compensate for the loss of star striker David Villa. A creative midfield is all fine and dandy, but it's a bit hard to get a win without someone to place the ball in the back of the net. Still, la roja have Fernando Torres and Fernando Llorente. They have freakin' Xavi, for goodness sake. And Andres Iniesta. They'll find a way to get that ball in.
The problems on both sides are similar, but Spain can cope with weakness much better than Italy can. The azzurri have a great midfield, but the Spanish have a fantastic one. Spain have some hesitation at the back, Italy have complete uncertainty. You get the idea. And hovering above this all is that Spain expect the win. The World Champions, the European Champions -- this match is theirs for the taking. Very few would argue that it won't turn out as anticipated.
Projected Spain Lineup (4-3-3): Iker Casillas; Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Alvaro Arbeloa; Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso, Xavi Hernandez; Andres Iniesta, Fernando Llorente, David Silva
Projected Italy Lineup (3-5-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Daniele De Rossi; Federico Balzaretti, Riccardo Montolivo, Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio, Christian Maggio; Sebastian Giovinco, Mario Balotelli
Monty the Psychic Metal Disk says: Italy is famous for their defense, but this is a team whose defenders often look like headless chickens. Spain will score early, then pass in circles for 85 minutes. 1-0 Spain.
Game Date/Time: Sunday, 12 p.m. ET, 6 p.m. local
Venue: PGE Arena Gdansk, Gdansk, Poland
TV: ESPN (U.S. - English), ESPN Deportes (U.S. - Spanish), BBC One (U.K.), TSN (Canada)