Estadio Castelão

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Spain v Italy: Preview

A repeat of last year's Euro 2012 final is staged in Forteleza. Spain's quest is to win the international trophy they are yet to lift and missed out on in 2009. Italy are out for revenge for the 4-0 defeat they suffered in Kiev last year.

Europe's best two teams from last year play off to face the hosts or South America's champions. Until beating Italy on penalties in the quarter-final of Euro 2008, Spain always dreaded meeting the Azzurri. A patched-up Italy may have lessened the fear factor yet lower.

What's at stake?

Vicente Del Bosque's first tournament experience came at the 2009 edition of the Confederations Cup. Defeat in the semi-final in Bloemfontein to Team USA was a shattering one for the Spanish and had them reaching for the self-doubt that Euro 2008 looked to have finally buried. What has followed since has allayed those fears but Spain want to get into their first final and lay a marker for the defence of their world title. The constant summer involvement of La Roja craves trophies as recompense for the tired legs.

Italy have certainly not looked as strong as they did a year ago though there are circumstances to explain that. Andrea Pirlo missed the Brazil game with injury, and Mario Balotelli is back home in Milan with fiancee Fanny Negusha after a thigh strain. Those are explainable. Of greater concern for Cesare Prandelli might be the worrying concession of goals to both Japan and Brazil. To pull off a shock against Spain might even be the biggest coup of Prandelli's career yet. If Italy concede three again, it will be the first time they have done so in three consecutive matches since 1976.

Style and tactics:

Del Bosque has made the change that many had asked for during the World Cup and Euros, but only through the necessity of Xabi Alonso's absence. The double pivot at the base of midfield has been abandoned, and Xavi is in the deep-lying position he wanted to play in 2010. That leaves Javi Martinez on the bench, which seems amazing after last season's European club campaign with Bayern Munich. And 4-6-0 seems to have been abandoned for now too, with Roberto Soldado favoured but probably missing this match with injury.

Prandelli played 3-5-2 in the opening Euro 2012 group game in Gdansk last year, but an ersatz and flexible 4-4-2 in Kiev's final. The results were markedly different and something akin to the former formation is expected at the Castelao. After conceding three and then four in the last two matches at the Confederations Cup, Prandelli needs desperately to lock down the defence. When a team needs the reshuffling that injury problems have forced, then a rearguard effort is easier to organise. Perhaps Daniele De Rossi may be required to operate as an auxiliary libero again, as he did with success at the Euros.

Players to watch:

In Roberto Soldado's absence, it seems likely that Fernando Torres will be recalled. Few players can have been dropped after scoring four times, but then again, the double brace did come against Tahiti. Cesc Fabregas pulled up in the group game, and is expected to be replaced by David Silva . Iker Casillas was named by Del Bosque as "the most first-choice" after both Victor Valdes and Pepe Reina enjoyed rare starts between the sticks in the group stage.

Beaten up and bruised, the lack of Mario Balotelli brings in Alberto Gilardino , a veteran of Italy's 2006 World Cup-winning squad but a rather less mobile a frontman. It is hard to believe he is still only 30. The suggestion is that Sebastian Giovinco , will be in a supporting role, after his winner against Japan, though the raiding may have to happen from deep positions. Gianluigi Buffon has looked less than his magnificent best in Brazil. At last, the great man may be coming under pressure after over a decade as the very top. Andrea Pirlo is back, at least.

What can we expect?

At the risk of repetition, the Spanish will dominate possession and try to pull apart Prandelli's carefully laid plans. As in Kiev, the Spanish aim will be to press Pirlo into anonymity, and then push for victory from there. An early goal would be fatal for Italy. Jordi Alba, whose goal last year reminded of Carlos Alberto's in 1970, may be a key man. The flanks are bound to be important with so many bodies in midfield.

Who'll win?

Spain must be expected to repeat history, and make more too by reaching their first Confederations Cup final.

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