Draw gets Italians off to a good start

Italy's Claudio Marchisio (C) controls the ball in front of team mate Thiago Motta (R) and Spain's...

Italy's Claudio Marchisio (C) controls the ball in front of team mate Thiago Motta (R) and Spain's Xabi Alonso (2nd R) during their Group C Euro 2012 soccer match at the PGE Arena stadium in Gdansk, June 10, 2012. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:48 PM ET

GDANSK, Poland -- The last two major tournaments ended in tears of despair for Italy.

Could it be that Euro 2012 will instead bring tears of joy?

It's a little early to know but Sunday night in Gdansk there were a few flasks of the finest vino quaffed as Italy celebrated a 1-1 tie with the defending world champion, Spain.

In years past, a tie would barely qualify for a mezzo litro, or as they say in English, a half litre. That was when Italy was at the top of the footballing world. But in the last few years the Italians have become more accustomed to drowning their sorrow than celebrating wins.

Coming into Euro 2012 there was fear that yet again the wine cellar would need to be broken into in an effort to forget what has become the lamentable state of Italian soccer.

After all, there was the game-fixing scandals, the injuries, the loss of three friendlies during tournament preparation.

Bartender, give me another!

There will be shouts of "give me another" across Italy over the next few days and it won't be a miserly half litre. The tomatoes reserved for the national team when they fly home will go into pasta sauce instead.

Italy's tie with Spain isn't an assurance that Italy is back. But there were many good signs for a team that had been despairingly short of them the last year.

Italian coach Cesare Prandelli opted to start a younger team that has plenty of potential. Steadying it was a core of veterans who have done it all and seen it all before. The best was midfielder Andrea Pirlo.

They moved the ball. They ran. They created openings. They showed life.

Mario Balotelli started with Antonio Cassano up front. Balotelli was not effective.

Claudio Marchisio and Thiago Motta were very effective. Antonio Di Natale scored after replacing Balotelli.

Don't go away with the impression that Italy deserved a win. A tie was suitable compensation for both teams.

Spain created more chances and had the run of the ball but that's not unusual for them. With David Villa injured, Spain started Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta and David Silva up front, three players who are more comfortable in the midfield. The lack of a pure striker was evident as Spain controlled the ball and always looked to make the extra pass instead of shooting.

A game that had little going for it in the first half exploded in the second. Both sides began to create chances and it didn't take long for the goals to come.

Italy stunned Spain to take a lead in the 54th minute when Di Natale held an onside position and ran onto a nice pass, which he deposited neatly behind Iker Casillas.

If that stunned the Spanish, they didn't stay that way for long. Spain had been knocking the ball around all day without finding an unlocking last pass but six minutes after the Italians took the lead, the Spanish found that final last touch.

Iniesta found Silva, who immediately turned the ball to Fabregas. He didn't hesitate, beating Gianluigi Buffon with a quick shot.

There were plenty more chances after that, especially for substitute Fernando Torres, but he made a hash of them.

The Spaniards have to be careful they don't take too many things for granted. The point was valuable for both teams in a group which includes Croatia and Ireland. But it's much more valuable for Italy.

It was very much a positive start for the beleaguered Italians and it will give them a big boost of confidence going into the rest of the tournament. But it's even more important psychologically because Italy wasn't sure how it would perform at this tournament.

"We could have won, we could have lost," Prandelli said. "The most important thing is the smile. We have to smile. It's a wonderful competition."

The Italians aren't about to take Europe by storm but they showed enough to raise hope ... and another glass.


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