Italy aiming to upset Spain at Euro12
By Alberto Bravo
17:33 AEST Sun Jun 10 2012

Spain are the team to beat but Italy can overturn expectations, Italian coach Cesare Prandelli says, on the eve of his team's opener against the reigning champions.

While acknowledging that Spain are the clear favourites, Prandelli recalled his team's recent win in a friendly against the Spaniards, saying: "When Italy has played football it has shown that it can be competitive, even against Spain."

Veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon said the 2006 World Cup winners would go into the game in Gdansk aiming for a surprise victory.

"In football, the strongest almost always wins, and they are the strongest. But sometimes the better ones win, and this leaves us some hope," Buffon said.

Spanish captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas said his side were full of respect for Italy, despite the Azzurri's dismal performance in the 2010 World Cup, when they went out during the group stages.

"The team has been renovated, it has prestigious veterans and young players full of motivation, many of them from Juventus, the Italian champions. We have utmost respect," Casillas said.

Xavi Hernandez, for his part, noted that Italy had shed their reputation as a team built on over-defensive "catenaccio" tactics and should offer a decent spectacle at Euro 2012.

"Italy have changed their system a lot. Now they are a team that wants the ball more, they get many players in midfield," Xavi said.

"They no longer close up at the back, they no longer use the catenaccio of earlier years," he said.

The Barcelona playmaker, a cornerstone of the Spanish national team, praised Sunday's rivals.

"People will see a good show. It will not be one of those games in which rivals shut themselves up at the back and Spain constantly have the ball. They're going to try to take it away from us," Xavi said.

World champions Spain are on Sunday embarking on the defence of their 2008 continental title, and they are widely regarded as a candidate to lift the trophy and attain a historic treble.

Xavi remembered the first of that string of titles four years ago in Austria and Switzerland.

"It was the start of this fantastic generation that Spain currently have," he said.

"The team we built lasts to this day. Despite the change of coach (with Vicente del Bosque replacing Luis Aragones), we are fighting to make history," Xavi stressed.

He noted, however, that what lies ahead is far from easy.

"At first sight we only have (in the group round) one historic team like Italy but Croatia and Ireland are physically-strong rivals who will put a lot of pressure on us.

"They will give us the ball and shut themselves up at the back. They will play direct football. It will be complicated," Xavi warned.

He urged Spain to remain faithful to their beautiful playing style.

"I like to play an attractive sort of football so that people enjoy themselves.

"I'd like to go down in history for being part of a team that won but also one that earned a place in the history of football," he said.

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