Italy have held Spain to a 1-1 draw in the opening Group C fixture of Euro2012 in Gdansk.
The Italians were the better of the sides in the opening half, creating a number of good chances, but it wasn’t until the second 45 minutes where things kicked into gear.
Cesare Prandelli made the decision to bring off Mario Balotelli just prior to the hour-mark and it worked a treat as his replacement, Antonio Di Natale, got on the end of Andrea Pirlo’s deft through ball to finish neatly past Iker Casillas off the far post to give the Italians the lead.
Earlier, Italy had some solid chances, namely when Pirlo’s 13th minute free-kick forced Casillas into a vital save about ten minutes before Antonio Cassano put his shot on the turn just wide of the mark.
Andres Iniesta’s powerful effort was safely held by Buffon at the near post for Spain’s first real chance on the half-hour mark before Casillas was able to deny Cassano’s low attempt but it was not a convincing stop with the ball bobbling dangerously near Balotelli.
Just before half-time, Iniesta had a great chance to open the scoring when he took a delightful first touch but put the ball over the bar moments before Casillas produced a world-class save to deny Thiago Motta’s header from close range.
Four minutes into the second half, Buffon kept out Fabregas before getting a slight touch from Iniesta’s angled effort which whizzed just past the far post.
The 54th minute saw Sergio Ramos come up with a brilliant tackle to deny Balotelli, who appeared to be taking it too easy after dispossessing the Real Madrid ace on the right flank, and it was another Premier League striker who also looked like nicking the winner down the other end.
Fernando Torres came on with just under 20 minutes remaining and almost had an immediate effect but overcooked his touch with an advancing Buffon able to keep him at bay and force the ball out.
In the 76th minute, Di Natale almost netted a second but hit his volley wide of the mark with only Casillas to beat before Torres attempted a chip from the top of the ‘D’ with five minutes remaining but put too much on it as Italy breathed a sigh of relief.
It was a solid performance by the Azzurri, who looked very organized and disciplined ahead of their meeting with Croatia, whilst Spain will be hoping they can bring their free-flowing game back when they take on Republic of Ireland with both matches to take place on June 14.
Euro2012 – Group C
Spain: 1 (Cesc Fabregas 64’)
Italy: 1 (Antonio Di Natale 61’)
PGE Arena, Gdansk – 38,869