Kiev, June 30: Euro 2012 reaches its climax in tomorrow's final here, when defending champions Spain will bid to hold off an Italy side who have steadily eased into form in trademark fashion.
Having beaten strongly fancied Germany 2-1 in Thursday's second semi-final in Warsaw, 1968 title-winners Italy will contest a Euro final for the first time since their extra-time loss to France in 2000.
Reigning world and European champions Spain are seeking to become the first team in history to win three consecutive major titles, but they required a penalty shoot-out to edge Portugal in the last four in Donetsk.
Despite dominating possession, as they did in the 2-0 quarter-final success over France, Spain laboured in attack against the Portuguese and have started to face accusations that their ‘tika-taka' style has become sterile.
Italy, in contrast, have confounded low pre-tournament expectations to eliminate first England and then Germany, and they have not been beaten by Spain over 90 minutes in a competitive match since the 1920 Olympics.
Italy's preparations for the tournament having been clouded by the Calcioscommesse match-fixing affair, the Azzurri could be poised to triumph in the face of adversity once again.
Their World Cup successes in both 1982 and 2006 were prefaced by match-fixing scandals, but coach Cesare Prandelli has cooled talk of omens by insisting that his side will be the underdogs at Kiev's Olympic Stadium.
“We are looking for Spain's weak points and we'll be working on that, but it won't be easy,” said Prandelli, whose side beat Spain 2-1 in a friendly in August last year. “They are world and European champions.”
Spain and Italy drew 1-1 in their opening Group C game—
Cesc Fabregas cancelling out Antonio di Natale's opener—and it will be the fourth time that two teams who have met in their first game resume hostilities in the final.