Playing in an unorthodox role lone strike role, at the expense of Fernando Torres and Fernado Llorente, the Barcelona midfielder lashed home from 10-yards after being played in by David Silva. It came just two minutes after substitute Antonio Di Natale had put Italy ahead on the hour mark finishing confidently past Iker Casillas. Torres then passed up a succession of golden opportunities to win the game as Spain turned in a less than convincing performance in their opening game of the finals.
The pressure is on Vicente del Bosque’s side to become the first nation to win three major international tournaments in a row whilst no one has ever managed to successfully defend the European Championship trophy. A lack of penetration in the final third owed much to the decision to pick Fabregas ahead of a recognised striker whilst Spain’s lethargic display could be put down to the fact the 23 players in the squad had played a combined total of 89,884 minutes last season.
Silva did threaten twice early on but was snuffed out with ease by Cesare Prandelli’s men who were led by the imperious figure of Daniele De Rossi playing out of position at centre back. The Azzuri soon clicked up the gears and Andrea Pirlo’s free-kick on 13 minutes forced Casillas into a smart save down to his left. Antonio Cassano then flashed an effort wide of the far post as Italy used the ball efficiently to create a series of opportunities. A thumping volley from Claudio Marchisio just outside the penalty area was kept out by Casillas who then had to be at his best to turn away Thiago Motta’s header from Cassano’s whipped cross. Still Spain continued to prove with Andres Iniesta and Xavi running their midfield but their goal scoring threat was minimal.
That changed considerably after the break with as Iniesta started to turn the screw and almost gave Spain the lead hammering the ball across goal and wide of Gianluigi Buffon’s far post. The Barcelona midfielder was then denied by a fingertip save from Buffon after being set free down the left by Fabregas. But for all of La Roja’s new found attacking purpose they were almost let down by one of their senior defenders as Sergio Ramos was robbed by Mario Balotelli on the touchline. The Italian striker drove into the penalty area only to hesitate and allow Ramos rectify his mistake with a last ditch interception with the goal at his mercy.
Balotelli was replaced by Di Natale soon after and it proved to be an inspired change by Prandelli as he latched onto Andrea Pirlo’s pass on the hour mark displaying an unnerving composure to open his body and curl the ball past Casillas from just inside the area. That was the awakening Spain required and within two minutes they were level as Fabregas latched on to Silva’s pass and struck a low shot past Buffon. He was then replaced by Torres, who scored the winner in the final against Germany in 2008, and could have made an instant impact only to fluff his lines as he tried to round the Buffon who did well to nick the ball from under the strikers feet.
Di Natale then poked just wide post before Torres spurned another chance at the opposite end firing high over the bar with Buffon’s goal at his mercy. Marchisio then thought he’d won it at the death but his tame strike was easily gathered by Casillas as Spain began the defence of their trophy with a narrow draw that leaves Group C poised on a knife edge.