|Italy's goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon smiles during a training session during the Euro 2012 at PGE arena stadium in Gdansk June 9, 2012. (Tony Gentile/REUTERS)
LVIV, UKRAINE - It’s the end of speculation.
Sunday, the truth will come out.
Is Italy as badly off as everyone suspects it is?
Is Spain the same team that dominated the world scene for four years or have injuries taken some of the sting out of La Furia Roja’s tail?
There is no place to hide at Euro. With a tournament that features so many of the top teams in the world among the 16, you are tested immediately.
Italy, Spain is a monster game for so early in the Euro 2012 tournament Sunday in Gdansk. As much as everyone thinks they know what these two major soccer powers are about, they can’t know what they are going to do on the pitch?
If it was merely about how it looked on paper or in the newspapers, the prediction would be easy. Italy would get whipped.
Italy is in a crisis about match-fixing. They have injures and did not prepare well going into the tournament.
Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon has had his banking records examined on suspicion he made large bets, Leonardo Bonucci is reportedly under investigation for match-fixing. Centre-back Andrea Barzagli may miss the tournament with a calf injury and striker Mario Balotelli is also hurting.
Let’s not forget that the Azzurri have lost their last three friendlies by a combined score of 5-0.
Italian fans still like to believe that Italy is among the top nations in the world but Italy is in rebuild mode.
What form will it take? Italy may well present the kind of direction its rebuild is going.
They can no longer exist by merely refusing to play both ends of the pitch. Other nations have developed attacking football that not only puts continual pressure on defences but also controls the ball for long periods of time.
They may very well come out and attack Spain, something most fans want Italy to do. It’s probably the only way Italy can threaten Spain.
Beware the wounded animal? Spain certainly is.
Gerard Pique knows how difficult Italy can be.
“It seems that Italy is wounded but I don’t see it like that,” he said. “In the past, it has often been the case that they have played best when they have been discounted.”
But even though Italy goes into the game as a definite underdog Spain must be wary, not only of the Azurri but of how they themselves will perform. Being the best team by far over four years, there is always the concern that they could come off the boil.
The loss of David Villa may be more of a problem than anyone expected. Villa is a true finisher. He doesn’t need much room to do his business. While Italy is by no means the defensive wall it was in years past, it is difficult to break down.
Can Spain break them down?
Will Italy attack Spain?
Take it apart all you want but it’s going to be Sunday before anyone finds out.