Fabregas makes a point
Fernando Torres misfires as Spain earn a draw against Italy
Last Updated: 10/06/12 10:13pm
European champions Spain began the defence of their title with a 1-1 draw against Italy courtesy of Cesc Fabregas' cool finish.
Referee: Hungarian Viktor Kassai had plenty to deal with as the match wore on making six of his seven bookings after the 66th minute. He rightly ignored Balotelli's penalty claims, before booking him for a foul before half time. Coped well with a high-profile fixture where Spain were more frustrated than their opponents. Lessons learnt: Did Spain pay the price for their striker-less attack? Click here to have your say.
Vicente del Bosque raised a few eyebrows by naming a team that did not contain any strikers as both teams struggled to find a killer touch in the opening half.
However, the introduction of Antonio Di Natale changed the game as he replaced Mario Balotelli who had fluffed a great chance to put his side ahead.
But Di Natale produced an expert finish to put his side minutes after coming on.
That sparked Spain into life and Cesc Fabregas finished with a aplomb after a flowing move to level the scores.
Fernando Torres was given an opportunity to stake a claim for a first-team place but missed two glorious chances in the final 20 minutes after he came on.
Del Bosque opted to utilise the 'false number nine' formation which saw them line-up without a striker and although there were moments of promise from offensive midfielders Fabregas, Andres Iniesta and David Silva, Spain lacked a focal point until Torres' introduction after 74 minutes.
Silva fired a ninth-minute drive over the bar from 25 yards and the Manchester City man drew an 11th-minute save from Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon after a swift break from Iniesta.
But the Azzurri's impressive trio of central defenders, Daniele De Rossi, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, managed to snuff out the rest of Spain's forays forward in a cagey opening period.
At the other end, Italy, inspired by the impressive Antonio Cassano, offered a genuine goal threat.
Andrea Pirlo saw a free-kick saved by Iker Casillas, who then denied Cassano and Claudio Marchisio, whose blistering volley would surely have gone in had it not been straight at the Real Madrid goalkeeper.
First-half injury-time saw both sides create their best chances of the period.
First, a typically incisive through-ball from Xavi presented a wonderful opportunity for Barcelona team-mate Iniesta but his first touch was uncharacteristically poor, meaning his second only resulted in a tame volleyed lob over the bar.
And then, Cassano escaped down the right and whipped in a wonderful cross for Thiago Motta, whose header was superbly palmed to safety by Casillas.
The Spanish came out with greater verve after the break and Buffon twice had to make smart saves, the first from Fabregas and the second a stunner to deny Iniesta.
But Italy were still causing headaches for Del Bosque's men in defence.
And it led to a momentary lapse in concentration from Sergio Ramos, the Real Madrid central defender dispossessed by Balotelli as he attempted a back pass to Casillas.
Balotelli was clear on goal but took an age to get a shot in, allowing Ramos to get back and smuggle the ball behind for a corner.
It proved Balotelli's final act as he was hauled off by Italy boss Cesare Prandelli in favour of Di Natale.
And the Udinese veteran made an immediate impact as he opened the scoring within four minutes, latching on to Pirlo's inch-perfect pass before coolly slotting past the onrushing Casillas.
A shock seemed on the cards but world and European champions Spain hit back almost immediately.
A beautiful flicked pass with the outside of his left boot from Silva picked out Fabregas and he made no mistake with a crisp finish under Buffon.
Del Bosque finally introduced a striker in Torres and although the former Atletico Madrid man looked sharp, he still appeared short on confidence in front of goal.
After 75 minutes he tried to round Buffon but the Juventus goalkeeper made a clean tackle and, then 10 minutes later, a clever one-two with Xavi saw Torres burst through but his attempted chip drifted narrowly over.
In between, Sebastian Giovinco picked out Di Natale five yards from goal but his volley at full stretch went wide.
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European Championships Group D