Spain held to 1-1 draw by Italy at Euros
For Spain, it was a bit of a stumble. For Italy, it was a bit of a reprieve.
Beginning their bid for a third straight major title, the Spanish rallied to earn a 1-1 draw on Sunday against Italy, who entered this year’s European Championship amid another match-fixing scandal.
Antonio Di Natale put Italy in front after an excellent setup from Andrea Pirlo in the 61st minute, but Cesc Fabregas equalised for the defending champions three minutes later by finishing off a dazzling display of Spain’s trademark passing game.
“Being the favourite now is complicated, but in the end we found the character (to earn a draw),” Fabregas said.
Spain, who followed up their Euro 2008 victory with the 2010 World Cup title, dominated the Group C match for long stretches but struggled to finish at times, while Italy relied on dangerous counterattacks.
“The thing that really disappoints us is that we allowed them to equalise very quickly,” Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said.
“We were playing the world champions and we should have made them work harder to get back into the game. We gave Spain the chance to score goals. We need to improve, but that’s our mentality.”
The draw ended a 14-match winning streak for Spain in competitive matches, which began after a 1-0 loss to Switzerland to open the last World Cup.
Still, it could have been worse.
“I don’t leave here frustrated because the effort we made to win this game was tremendous,” Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said.
“It was a good game, a different kind of game. It was back-and-forth and the draw was the fair result.”
Spain pulled a surprise by starting with no recognised strikers in their lineup, with Fabregas at forward between David Silva and Andres Iniesta – leaving Fernando Torres, Alvaro Negredo and Fernando Llorente on the bench.
“The first one to be surprised was me,” Fabregas said.
“I was happy to have the opportunity, happy to be able to play. It’s been a month and half since I’ve played. To get the goal was nice.”
Italy countered with an attack of Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli and an untested three-man defence.
Di Natale replaced Balotelli in the 56th and scored five minutes later, collecting a pass from Pirlo just as he slipped in between two defenders, then expertly shooting around Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
Fabregas’ goal from the centre of the area concluded a series of passes that started with Iniesta giving the ball to Silva, who then found Fabregas cutting toward the goal.
Balotelli’s aggressiveness drew the attention of Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai, first with a verbal warning after the Italy forward collided with Gerard Pique, then with a yellow card for a foul on Jordi Alba in the 37th.© AAP 2013