Tag Archives: Giorgio Chiellini

A Complete Guide To The Final 16 Teams Of The Champions League

UCL-Draw

Manchester United and Arsenal, the only two remaining English sides, will be looking to avoid the big guns in the draw for the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League, which takes place in Nyon (Switzerland) on Thursday 10:30am GMT.

Manchester United qualified as Group H winners and so are seeded in the draw but they still could be drawn against the big sides, while Arsenal finished as runners-up and like United could face the top guns especially Barcelona (third time in the past four seasons) in the knockout stages. On the other hand, Chelsea became the first holders to be eliminated in the group stages, while Manchester City were completely knocked out of Europe as they ended bottom of their group.

Group Winners: Paris Saint-Germain, Schalke, Malaga, Borussia Dortmund, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Manchester United
Group Runners-Up: Porto, Arsenal, AC Milan, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk, Valencia, Celtic, Galatasaray

Below we have a look at each of the above 16 teams in detail..

PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN

Country: France
Coach:
Carlo Ancelotti
Key Player: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Other Star Players: Thiago Silva, Ezequiel Lavezzi & Javier Pastore
Rising Star: Marco Verratti
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Semi-final 1995
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: Arsenal, AC Milan, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk, Valencia, Celtic, Galatasaray
Chances: PSG are one of the richest clubs in the world and have ambitions to win the Champions League this term. If striker Ibrahimovic can continue his superb form from the group stages, it might just happen.
Prediction: Quarter-Finals

SCHALKE 04

Country: Germany
Coach:
 Jens Keller
Key Player: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar
Other Star Players: Benedikt Howedes, Lewis Holtby & Kyriakos Papadopoulos
Rising Star: Julian Draxler
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Semi-final 2011
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: Porto, AC Milan, Shakhtar Donetsk, Galatasary, Valencia, Celtic, Real Madrid
Chances: The Germans were unbeaten through their group which consisted the likes of Arsenal, Olympiakos and Montpellier, which shows they are not a team to be taken for granted. One their day they could upset the big guns.
Prediction: Round of 16

MALAGA

Country: Spain
Coach:
 Manuel Pellengrini
Key Player: Isco
Other Star Players: Joaquin, Martin Demichelis & Eliseu
Rising Star: Francisco Portillo
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Debutants
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: Arsenal, Shakhtar Donetsk, Celtic, Galatasaray
Chances: Have been very impressive so far in their debut season in the Champions League, but their inexperience in the competition may prove costly in the knockout stages.
Prediction: Round of 16

BORUSSIA DORTMUND

Country: Germany
Coach:
 Jurgen Klopp
Key Player: Marco Reus
Other Star Players: Roberto Lewandowski, Mats Hummels & Mario Gotze
Rising Star: Moritz Leitner
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Winners 1997
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: Porto, Arsenal, AC Milan, Shakhtar Donetsk, Valencia, Celtic,Galatasaray
Chances: The reigning Bundesliga champions have very much caught the eye in the group stages after finishing at top of the Group of Death and are the team to beat. Considered as the dark horses for the title.
Prediction: Quarter-Finals

JUVENTUS

Country: Italy
Coach:
 Antonio Conte
Key Player: Arturo Vidal
Other Star Players: Andrea Pirlo, Gianluigi Buffon & Giorgio Chiellini
Rising Star: Paul Pogba
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Winners 1985, 1996
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: Porto, Real Madrid, Arsenal, Valencia, Celtic, Galatasaray
Chances: The reigning Serie A champions remained unbeaten in the group stages and topped their group by winning on the final matchday. The Italians are expected to step it up when the competition resumes in February.
Prediction: Quarter-Finals

BAYERN MUNICH

Country: Germany
Coach:
 Jupp Heynckes
Key Player: Franck Ribery
Other Star Players: Arjen Robben, Bastian Schweinsteiger & Philipp Lahm
Rising Star: David Alaba
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Winners 1974, 1975, 1976, 2001
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: Porto, Arsenal, AC Milan, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk, Celtic,Galatasaray
Chances: The current Bundesliga leaders ended as the beaten finalists last season and will be looking to make amends for it. They have been in fine form so far and are one of the favourites to lift the trophy in May.
Prediction: Semi-Finals

BARCELONA

Country: Spain
Coach:
 Tito Vilanova
Key Player: Lionel Messi
Other Star Players: Andres Iniesta, Xavi & Sergio Busquets
Rising Star: Christian Tello
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Winners 1992, 2006, 2009, 2011
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk, Arsenal, Galatasaray, AC Milan
Chances: The Catalans were the pre-tournament favourites to win the competition and there has been very little so far to suggest that they won’t win it this term. Vilanova has done brilliantly since taking over from Pep Guardiola in the summer.
Prediction: Winners

MANCHESTER UNITED

Country: England
Coach:
 Sir Alex Ferguson
Key Player: Wayne Rooney
Other Star Players: Robin van Persie, Nemanja Vidic & Antonio Valencia
Rising Star: Rafael
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Winners 1968, 1999, 2008
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: Porto, AC Milan, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk, Valencia, Celtic
Chances: Unlike last season, United have marched pretty easily into the knockout stages and with Van Persie & Rooney both in form they are a team to fear. Surely one of the contenders for the title.
Prediction: Semi-Finals

PORTO

Country: Portugal
Coach:
 Vitor Pereira
Key Player: Jackson Martinez
Other Star Players: Joao Moutinho, Lucho Gonzalez & Nicolas Otamendi
Rising Star: James Rodriguez
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Winner 1987, 2004
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: Schalke, Malaga, Dortmund, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Manchester United
Chances: The Portuguese champions have gone all the way before but its very unlikely it will happen again this season. They have a very good squad with some very talented players but its highly unlikely they will trouble the big teams.
Prediction: Round of 16

ARSENAL

Country: England
Coach:
 Arsene Wenger
Key Player: Santi Cazrola
Other Star Players: Jack Wilshere, Thomas Vermaelen & Lukas Podolski
Rising Star: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Runner-up 2006
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: PSG, Malaga, Dortmund, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Barcelona
Chances: The Gunners have had a stuttering season both domestically and in Europe – especially at home. They will need to improve a lot in the second half of the season if they want to be genuine title contenders.
Prediction: Quarter-Finals

AC MILAN

Country: Italy
Coach:
 Massimiliano Allegri
Key Player: Stephan El Shaarawy
Other Star Players: Philippe Mexes, Ricardo Montolivo & Kevin-Prince Boateng
Rising Star: Mattia De Sciglio
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Winners 1963, 1969, 1989, 1990, 1994, 2003, 2007
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: PSG, Schalke, Dortmund, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Manchester United
Chances: Like Arsenal, the Rossoneri are struggling this term domestically and in Europe. They are not the force of the old, although their pedigree and experience in this competition means they should not be taken lightly.
Prediction: Round of 16

REAL MADRID

Country: Spain
Coach:
 Jose Mourinho
Key Player: Cristiano Ronaldo
Other Star Players: Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos & Mesut Ozil
Rising Star: Raphael Varane
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Winners 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1966, 1998, 2000, 2002
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: PSG, Schalke, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Manchester United
Chances: Its been over a decade since Real Madrid last won the Champions League and the boss Mourinho has never appeared more determined to win the tournament for the club this season. With the team they have they are regarded as the joint favourites alongside Barca.
Prediction: Runners-Up

SHAKHTAR DONETSK

Country: Ukraine
Coach:
 Mircea Lucescu
Key Player: Luiz Adriano
Other Star Players: Darijo Srna, Willian & Fernandinho
Rising Star: Henrikh Mkhitaryan
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Quarter-final 2011
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: PSG, Schalke, Malaga, Dortmund, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Manchester United
Chances: Like Dortmund, Shakhtar are another side that have grabbed the attention of many in the group stages. They are the ones who dumped Chelsea out of the tournament and a side very few people would want to face in the knockout stages.
Prediction: Round of 16

VALENCIA

Country: Spain
Coach:
 Ernesto Valverde
Key Player: Roberto Soldado
Other Star Players: Jonas, Sofiane Feghouli & Adil Rami
Rising Star: Daniel Parejo
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Runner-up 2000, 2001
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: PSG, Schalke, Dortmund, Juventus, Manchester United
Chances: The Spaniards have been very impressive in the group stages with their star striker at the top of his game but do not appear equipped for a really extended run in competition this season.
Prediction: Round of 16

CELTIC

Country: Scotland
Coach:
 Neil Lennon
Key Player: Giorgos Samaras
Other Star Players: Fraser Forster, Victor Wanyama & Gary Hooper
Rising Star: Anthony Watt
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Winners 1967
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: PSG, Schalke, Málaga, Dortmund, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Manchester United
Chances: Had little hopes of making it through to the knockout stages after being grouped with Barcelona, Benfica and Spartak Moscow but they did it. Anything else from now will be a bonus for the Scottish champions.
Prediction: Round of 16

GALATASARAY

Country: Turkey
Coach:
 Fatih Terim
Key Player: Burak Yilmaz
Other Star Players: Felipe Melo, Nordin Amrabat & Hamit Altintop
Rising Star: Semih Kaya
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Semi-finals 1989
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: PSG, Schalke, Málaga, Dortmund, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Barcelona
Chances: Snatched the second spot from CFR Cluj on the final matchday. Like Celtic, anything else they achieve from now on will be a bonus for the Turkish side and very few teams will fancy making the trip to the intimidating Turk Telekom Arena in Istanbul.
Prediction: Round of 16

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Champions League Group Stage Ultimate XI

Group Stage Ultimate XI

The Champions League group stages are done and dusted with Chelsea becoming the first holders in the history to be knocked out in the group stages, Manchester City completely out of Europe, Real Madrid finishing second and Lionel Messi in fine form.

Here, IntoTheTopCorner picks its Group Stage Ultimate XI, containing the very best performers over the six matchdays in a 4-5-1 formation. There’s an alternative to each selection, so have a look at the team below…

GK – FRASER FORSTER (CELTIC)

Forster

Celtic are through to the knockout stages for the first time since the 2007/08 season and they had some individual performances to thank for. The former Newcastle United shot-stopper is one of them, as he had two brilliant games against Barcelona that actually secured their qualification. A last-gasp defeat at the Camp Nou and a historical win at Celtic Park did their confidence a world of good, and their final matchday win over Spartak Moscow was more than deserved.

Alternative – Joe Hart (Manchester City)

RB – PHILIPP LAHM (BAYERN MUNICH)

Lahm

Bayern’s skipper and Mr. Consistent, Philipp Lahm, has proved dependable yet again as the Bundesliga leaders secured the top spot in Group F ahead of Valencia. Though, the German international captain did his best work on the left flank he comes in our side as a right-back. He managed three assists and won one penalty in the five matches he played and looked very solid at the back.

Alternative – Lukasz Piszczek (Borussia Dortmund)

CB – THIAGO SILVA (PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN)

Thiago Silva

The Brazilian is known as one of the best defenders in the world of football at the moment and he didn’t let anyone down. The former AC Milan centre-back was very consistent throughout the group stages as he helped the French side to first place in Group A in their long-awaited return to Europe’s elite. He scored two goals including the opener in PSG’s important win over Porto on Matchday six.

Alternative – Martin Demichelis (Malaga)

CB – MATS HUMMELS (BORUSSIA DORTMUND)

Hummels

Dortmund – surprisingly – topped the Group of Death and they had their solid defence to thank for it. Hummels, the integral part of the reigning Bundesliga champions’ back four, was at his very best as Die Schwarzgelben remained unbeaten in all of their six group games and also managed to keep three clean sheets in the process.  All the defence played their part, but the German international was perhaps the standout performer in Jurgen Klopp’s back four.

Alternative – Nicolas Otamendi (Porto)

LB – GIORGIO CHIELLINI (JUVENTUS)

Chiellini

Juventus secured their passage through to the knockout stages as Group E winners thanks to an unbeaten run of six games. Their last three were impressive wins and also clean sheets, while the Old Lady came out victorious in Donetsk – a feat achieved by very few teams in the past 12 months or so. The Italian international was perhaps the most impressive player in Antonio Conte’s back three.

Alternative – Christian Fuchs (Schalke)

CDM – ARTURO VIDAL (JUVENTUS)

Vidal

The Chilean international has to be one of the players of the group stages. The former Leverkusen man is a typical box-to-box midfielder combining defensive steel with goal-scoring prowess at the highest level. His partnership with Claudio Marschisio is the engine of Conte’s team. In the group stages, he averaged 4.8 tackles per game and scored three goals with one assist—an absolutely remarkable feat for a defensive midfield.

Alternative – Victor Wanyama (Celtic)

CM – WILLIAN (SHAKHTAR DONETSK)

Willian

The Brazilian alongside the Chilean gives our side some South American feel in the midfield. Willian, who has attracted a lot of interest from the Premier League clubs like Chelsea and Tottenham in the past, was one of the top performers for Shakhtar scoring four goals and creating two as they made it through to the last-16 and dumped the holders out of the competition in the process.

Alternative – Fernandinho (Shakhtar Donetsk)

CM – ISCO (MALAGA)

Isco

The 20-year-old Spaniard scored twice and assisted two in six games to announce himself on the European stage and walk straight into our line-up. While he has failed to to translate this form into his La Liga games, Isco has been in super form in the Champions League. It’s his form in the in Europe’s elite competition that has clubs scrambling to meet his €18.5 million buyout clause before Malaga extend his contract, and it’s clear this kid has something slightly special.

Alternative – Toni Kroos (Bayern Munich)

RW – CRISTIANO RONALDO (REAL MADRID)

Ronaldo

Love him or hate him, but the Portuguese is surely one of the best players in the world and he proved it with his performances for the Spanish champions in the group stages. The former Manchester United star managed to scored six goals in the group of death and will be hoping to score many more in the later stages as he hopes to guide the Los Blancos to their first ever Champions League title in over a decade.

Alternative – Juan Mata (Chelsea)

LW – LIONEL MESSI (BARCELONA)

Messi

A Champions League team without the best player in the world? Not possible at all. The Barca striker is at his very peak and was again at his very best in the group stages scoring five goals and creating two as he helped the Catalans top their group. The Argentine has had the best year having scored 90 goals and will be hoping more of the same in 2013 as he looks to guide his team to yet another European success.

Alternative – Burak Yilmaz (Galatasaray)

ST – ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC (PARIS SAINT-GERMIAN)

Ibrahimovic

Out strike force is a nightmare to any team and Ibrahimovic leads it. The Swede has played for the many elite club during his career but his contributions for the French capital side in this season’s campaign can’t be ignored. He has managed to score just two goals in the six games but it’s the five assists that are the most impressive. Ezequiel Lavezzi, Javier Pastore and Jeremy Menez must really enjoy playing alongside the Swede as he continues to impress.

Alternative – Jackson Martinez (Porto)

Group Stage Ultimate XI

UEFA EURO 2012 Final In Pictures

What a Sunday Night it was in Kiev as Spain created history by becoming the first team ever to win three successive major international tournaments by defeating the Italy in the UEFA EURO 2012 Final.

The Spaniards dominated the game completely and truly deserved the victory as they outclassed and outplayed the Italians. Want to relive it again? Then, take a look below as we recap the final in pictures. Note: Click on the Images to view in Bigger Size. 

The UEFA EURO 2012 final ball and trophy in the Olympic Stadium before the UEFA EURO 2012 final between Spain and Italy.
Spain fans enjoy the atmosphere ahead of the UEFA EURO 2012 final match at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev.
Italy fans enjoy the pre match atmopshere during the UEFA EURO 2012 final match  at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev.
Dancers perform during the closing ceremony at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev.
German singer Oceana performs during the closing ceremony at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev.
Spain line up for the UEFA EURO 2012 final.
Italy line up for UEFA EURO 2012 final.
Italy’s prime minister Mario Monti, UEFA president Michel Platini and Spain’s Prince Felipe watch the UEFA EURO 2012 final.
Italy’s Ricardo Montolivo tackles Spain Sergio Busquets during the match.
Spain’s David Silva heads in the opening goal of the UEFA EURO 2012 final.
Spain’s David Silva celebrates with his teammate Alvaro Arbeloa after scoring the opening goal.
Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini leaves the pitch due to injury.
Italy respond positively after the setback as Spain’s Iker Casillas denies Italy’s Mario Balotelli a chance to head in.
Spain’s Jordi Alba score their second goal of the game just before half time.
Spain’s Jordi Alba celebrates scoring his first ever international goal and Spain’s second of the game.
Italy’s Mario Balotelli reacts after Spain take a two goal lead into half time.
Spain’s Iker Casillas jumps to punch away a dangerous Italy corner in the early stages of the second half.
Italian substitute Thiago Motta is stretched off after being on the pitch for just 4 minutes. Italy down to 10 men with 30 minutes to play.
Substitute Fernando Torres scores Spain’s third goal past Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon.
Spain’s Fernando Torres celebrates scoring his side’s third goal of the game and his third goal of the tournament which wins the Golden Boot award.
Juan Mata scores Spain’s fourth goal of the night past Gianluigi Buffon.
Spain’s Juan Mata celebrates with his teammate Fernando Torres after scoring his side’s fourth goal of the game.
Spain celebrate their victory after defeating Italy 4-0 in the UEFA EURO 2012 final.
Mario Balotelli reacts after Spain successfully defend their European Championship crown.
Captain Iker Casillas of Spain lifts the trophy after victory over Italy in the UEFA EURO 2012 final in Kiev.
Spain’s Iker Casillas lifts the Henry Delaunay cup high for the second consecutive time in four years.
Italy’s Mario Balotelli cries as he shows his dejection following defeat to Spain in the UEFA EURO 2012 final.
Spain players and coaching staff celebrate with the trophy.
Celebrations continue in the dressing room as the Spanish president Mariano Rajoy and Prince Felipe pose with the players.

UEFA EURO 2012 Final Preview – Spain v Italy

European glory is up for grabs on Sunday night at Kiev’s Olympic Stadium when the defending champions Spain go head-to-head against the 2006 World Cup winners Italy.

Neither side have lost a match in the tournament so far but it will be the Italians who enter the showpiece in better form. Cesare Prandelli’s side were excellent in their quarter-final win over England – which was only decided on penalties because of their poor finishing – and they backed it up with a superb 2-1 victory against an in-form Germany. And although Spain will enter the final as favourites, Prandelli is confident his side can cause problems for their opponents. “We only have one day to prepare for this game but we will try to find Spain’s weaknesses,” Prandelli said. “They are the world and European champions and they are an example to everyone. But we have grown and we should not fear them. We have to have the strength to face them with ideas and quality.”

Reigning European champions Spain had the opportunity to eliminate Italy during the group stage, with both sides slugging it out in Group C. A 2-2 draw against Croatia in their final group game would have been enough to see Spain and the Croats progress at Italy’s expense. Del Bosque’s side play to win, though, and a late effort from Jesus Navas, coupled with a 2-0 victory for the Azzurri over the Republic of Ireland, kept things fair. Del Bosque has no regrets at having passed up the chance to send a rival packing and is looking forward to renewing acquaintances with a side that posed Spain plenty of problems during a 1-1 draw in the opening round of fixtures.  “Never have we regretted not drawing with Croatia to eliminate Italy. This wasn’t good for sport,” Del Bosque said. “Italy and ourselves have lived parallel lives and now we have to be at the level that a final demands. In the game in the group stages they were possibly superior in the first half. They were the team that gave us most problems.”

TEAM NEWS

Spain

Spain boss Vicente del Bosque is expected to have a fully-fit squad for the Euro 2012 final showdown with Italy. The 61-year-old’s biggest selection dilemma is likely to be over whether to field a recognised striker after Alvaro Negredo’s anonymous performance in the semi-final win over Portugal. With Fernando Torres seemingly out of favour, and with Fernando Llorente yet to make an appearance at the tournament, Cesc Fabregas could be restored to a ‘false nine’ role up front alongside Andres Iniesta and David Silva.

Italy

Italy defender Ignazio Abate, who missed the semi-final win over Germany with a muscle injury, is likely to return to fitness in time for the final, while fellow full-back Christian Maggio is also available after serving a one-match ban. Coach Cesare Prandelli may persist with the same formation that served him well against the Germans rather than revert to the unorthodox 3-5-2 line-up used in the opening match against Spain. AC Milan-bound Riccardo Montolivo is likely to keep his place in the team ahead of Thiago Motta after an assured performance in the semi-final.

ROAD TO THE FINAL

Spain

10 Jun – Group C – Spain 1-1 Italy (Fabregas)
14 Jun – Group C – Spain 4-0 Ireland (Torres(2), David Silva, Fabregas)
18 Jun – Group C – Croatia 0-1 Spain (Jesus Navas)
23 Jun – Quarter-Finals – Spain 2-0 France (Xabi Alonso(2))
27 Jun – Semi-Finals – Portugal 0-0 (2-4P) Spain

Italy

10 Jun – Group C – Spain 1-1 Italy (Fabregas)
14 Jun – Group C – Italy 1-1 Croatia (Pirlo)
18 Jun – Group C – Italy 2-0 Ireland (Cassano, Balotelli)
24 Jun – Quarter-Finals – England 0-0 (2-4P) Italy
28 Jun – Semi-Finals – Germany 1-2 Italy (Balotelli(2))

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Played – 30
Spain Wins – 8
Draws – 12
Italy Wins – 10

FORM GUIDE

Spain – DWWWD
27-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Portugal 0-0 Spain
23-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 2-0 France
18-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Croatia 0-1 Spain
14-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 4-0 Ireland
10-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 1-1 Italy

Italy – WDWDD
28-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Germany 1-2 Italy
22-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – England 0-0 Italy
18-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Italy 2-0 Ireland
14-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Italy 1-1 Crotia
10-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 1-1 Italy

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Iker Casillas (Spain)
The Real Madrid and Spain captain is often unsung, but he steers the game out of the back, organizes the defense and restarts the attack. In Spain’s best games, he often has little to do which makes his concentration all the more remarkable: he is the rare keeper who can make the important save after sitting idle for 89 minutes. That’s a more valuable asset than most fans realize.

Andres Iniesta (Spain)
Against Portugal, the Barcelona playmaker was shackled and kept quiet. It showed in Spain’s insipid play. Iniesta has to have the ball and he has to have room to create. When he has both, Spain are the most vicious team on the planet, slicing apart defenses with abandon. But when he is off – and he rarely is – they are reduced to a passing team that must play keep-away and is very boring to watch.

Cesc Fabregas (Spain)
Del Bosque’s insistence on packing his side with as many playmakers as possible has rendered Spain slow and predictable in possession, with not enough width to stretch the opposition. The 61-year-old could compensate for this by ordering Fabregas to make runs behind the Italian backline as often as possible to drag defenders out of position, thus creating space for Iniesta and Silva to run into.

Gianluigi Buffon (Italy)
Pirlo may control the game, but Buffon is the man who saves it. He was brilliant against Germany, swatting away shot after shot and showing control of his area that most keepers can only dream of. A consummate competitor, he also stalked off the field after their win, clearly unhappy. Why? Italy had wasted too many chances at the other end. That kind of fire drives teams, and Italy’s captain has fire in spades.

Andrea Pirlo (Italy)
Even though Balotelli was praised by the football fraternity for his two goals against Germany, it was Pirlo’s brilliance on the field that won him his third Man of the Match award for the tournament. Pirlo has been able to topple all the opponents with his accurate passes and wise decisions creating opportunities for his team-mates to score goals every now and then. Along with Balotelli, Italy will need Pirlo to use his experience for a formidable show.

Mario Balotelli (Italy)
Even though many disagree on the striker’s maturity level, none would doubt Mario Ballotelli’s ability on the pitch as a footballer. He proved his worth against Germany in the last four as he was key to Italy’s place in the final. After being inconsistent throughout the tournament, Balotelli was the catalyst against Germany which rung the bells for the defending champions. The fans would expect an encore from Balotelli and with a formidable show; he can also bag the much coveted golden boot.

PROBABLE LINEUPS

Spain (4-3-3): Iker Casillas (C); Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba; Sergi Busquets, Xavi, Xabi Alonso; David Silva, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta.

The Spaniards are expected to field the same side that featured against the Italians in the first game in Group C. Cesc Fabregas, who scored the winning penalty against Portugal, will come in place for Alvaro Negredo, who was quite annonymous during the semi-finals. The rest of the starting XI will be the same. But at the same time, Del Bosque is not shy of throwing in some surprises and might actually play Pedro or Jesus Navas or Fernando Torres in place of David Silva or in the central striker role. Pedro and Jesus Navas were very impressive against the Portuguese after coming on as substitutes and caused Cristiano Ronaldo and co some problems.

Italy (4-3-1-2): Gianluigi Buffon (C); Ignazio Abate, Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini, Federico Balzaretti; Claudio Marchisio, Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi; Ricardo Montolivo; Mario Balotelli, Antonio Cassano.

It hardly seems that boss Cesare Prandelli will change his winning team that defeated Germany in the semi-finals. However, a solitary change is a possibility with the AC Milan right back Ignazio Abate coming back in the side for Leanardo Bonucci with Federico Balzaretti going back to his normal left back position. Rest of the side will remain the same with Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marschiso and Daniele De Rossi playing in center midfield just behind Ricardo Montolivo. Up front, the attacking duo of Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano are set to start yet again after an very impressive display against the Germans.

KEY BATTLES

Sergio Ramos v Mario Balotelli
With Carles Puyol ruled out for the entire tournament by injury, Sergio Ramos has cemented his place as Gerard Pique’s partner at the heart of Spain’s defence. His replica of Andre Pirlo’s penalty in the semi-final penalty shoot-out win over Portugal demonstrated his confidence. Mario Balotelli appears to be maturing before our very eyes at UEFA EURO 2012. His form and attitude were questioned in Italy’s first two games but he has been almost unplayable since scoring the stunning goal as a substitute against Ireland.

Xavi v Andrea Pirlo
A mouthwatering showdown between two of the best passers ever to grace the game. Xavi’s status as an all-time great has already been assured but he has yet to hit the heights in Poland/Ukraine and will be desperate to do so on Sunday. Andrea Pirlo has been peerless for Italy and almost has the Player of the Tournament award wrapped up ahead of the final.

Andres Iniesta v Ignazio Abate/Federico Balzaretti 
If Spain decide not to play a striker, their midfield will have to fill the void and no-one is more capable of doing so than Andres Iniesta, whose goal settled the 2010 World Cup. The 28-year-old also likes to drift out wide, where he will doubtless come up against Ignazio Abate or Federico Balzaretti. The AC Milan right-back and the Juventus defender both have been very impressive going forward during the tournament.

THE STADIUM

Name: Olympic Stadium, Kiev
UEFA Capacity: 
64,640
Record attendance: 
102,000 (2-0 FC Dynamo Kyiv v FC Bayern München on 16/03/1977)
Tenants: 
Ukrainian national team
Opened: 
1923 (reopened October 2011)

• Located at the foot of city’s central Cherepanov Hill in Pechersk, the venue started life as the Red Stadium of Lev Trotsky and has enjoyed numerous face-lifts (minor and major) since.

• The latest stadium reconstruction, from December 2008 to October 2011, saw the demolition and rebuilding of the lower tier, a new West Stand with a two-level press box or VIP seats between the two tiers and the addition of a new transparent roof.

• Andriy Yarmolenko scored the first goal at the renovated Olympic Stadium on 11 November 2011, a crowd of 70,000 in attendance as Ukraine led 2-0 and 3-1 before drawing 3-3 with Germany.

• It has had several monikers, too. It became simply the Red Stadium before being renamed the Republican Stadium in 1936 and, barring a 17-year stint as the Central Stadium (1962 to 1979), kept the title until 1996. Then it adopted its current Olympic name, a nod to the 1980 Moscow Olympics when it hosted seven games.

• The stadium is the traditional stage for Dynamo Kiev’s European games, replacing the 16,973-capacity Valeriy Lobanovskiy Stadium.

• Because there were no seats the venue often exceeded its official 100,062 capacity. Newspapers used to just report attendance as being ‘chock-full’.

(source: uefa.com)

THE MATCH BALL

The adidas Tango 12 Finale features a modern interpretation of classic Tango design, used during FIFA World Cups and UEFA European Championships during the early 1980s, including bespoke graphics designed to represent the two host countries and the key characteristics of football – unity, rivalry and passion.

Developed over a two-year period, it has been constructed in the same way as the ball which will be used during the rest of the tournament. That ball was presented in December 2011 at the EURO draw and distributed to the participating teams.

The final ball underwent two rigorous types of testing – qualitative player testing, which was conducted across eight different countries, using players, federations and clubs from both elite and grassroots football, and quantitative lab testing, which concluded that the adidas Tango 12 Finale meets and exceeds all FIFA standards for an official match ball, making it the most tested ball adidas has ever produced.

(source: uefa.com)

THE TROPHY

Spain’s Iker Casillas had the pleasure of becoming the first captain to lift the updated version of the Henri Delaunay Cup in June 2008, with the new trophy a fitting replacement for the prize that has been synonymous with the UEFA European Championship.

The second version of the trophy is based on the original designed by Arthus-Bertrand in 1960 and named after Henri Delaunay, the former president of the French Football Federation and UEFA’s first general secretary, from the body’s founding on 15 June 1954 to 9 November 1955.

It is 18cm higher and 2kg heavier than the original, made of sterling silver, and has retained its historical name. The trophy was reincarnated to reflect the scale and size of Europe’s most prestigious international tournament.

The responsibility for creating the original went to Pierre Delaunay, son of Henri, the visionary behind the competition. Henri Delaunay died in 1955 before seeing his idea come to fruition, but the updated prize is testament to his enduring legacy, maintaining its classic style.

Minor differences between the original and updated version include the silver base being enlarged to make it stable. In addition, the names of the winning countries that had appeared on the plinth have been engraved on the back of the trophy, which weighs 8kg and is 60cm tall.

Unlike the original, which was the work of the Chobillon goldsmith and was later bought by Arthus-Bertrand in Paris, the making of the modern equivalent was entrusted to Asprey London.

Asprey, renowned silversmiths, jewellers and goldsmiths, have a long history of trophy-making stretching back to the America’s Cup, which their sister company Garrard produced in 1848. UEFA wanted to improve on the quality but also the scale of the trophy, and have a focal point for the event – it was felt that the original trophy was too small to do this.

(source: uefa.com)

THE REFEREE

Pedro Proenca of Portugal has been selected to referee the UEFA EURO 2012 final between Italy and Spain at the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv on Sunday. The appointment completes a memorable end to the season for the financial director from Pinhal Novo, who oversaw last month’s UEFA Champions League showpiece in Munich, where Chelsea defeated Bayern Munich on penalties.

Sunday’s fixture will be the 41-year-old’s fourth of the tournament, having taken charge of two group stage matches – Spain’s 4-0 victory against the Republic of Ireland on 14 June and Sweden’s 2-0 defeat of France five days later – as well as the England-Italy quarter-final in the Ukrainian capital.

Proenca will be assisted by countrymen Bertino Cunha Miranda and Ricardo Jorge Ferreira Santos, with Manuel Jorge Neves Moreira De Sousa and Duarte Nuno Pereira Gomes acting as additional assistant referees. The fourth official will be Cüneyt Cakır and the reserve assistant referee Bahattin Duran, both from Turkey.

Proenca has been on the rise in European refereeing circles since handling the UEFA European Under-19 Championship final in 2004. Promoted to UEFA’s Elite category at the start of 2009/10, he was in the middle for four games in that season’s UEFA Champions League, five in the 2010/11 edition and six this term, culminating in the Fußball Arena Munchen decider on 19 May.

(source: uefa.com)

THE  CLOSING CEREMONY

Kiev’s Olympic Stadium will host the UEFA EURO 2012 closing ceremony on Sunday, an unforgettable curtain-raiser to the final between Spain and Italy.

Inspired by football, the 16 participating teams and the tournament’s values, the 12-minute show will be presented shortly before kick-off, and will feature more than 600 volunteer performers. The concept has been created to celebrate the end of a historical event – the first UEFA European Championship staged in central and eastern Europe. It will also promote the participating nations together with key competition values: unity, rivalry and passion.

Both the opening and closing ceremonies were devised by Marco Balich, the president of Filmmaster Events, along with artistic director Lida Castelli and show director Bryn Walters. Balich has designed many international events, including the 2002 Olympic flag handover in Salt Lake City, the 2006 Olympic ceremonies in Turin and the Carnival of Venice.

The official tournament song, Endless Summer, will be performed live by German singer Oceana. The UEFA EURO 2012 hit is the first single from Oceana’s outstanding new studio album, recorded in London, New York and Berlin with producers including Rob Davis (Kylie Minogue) and Blair McKichan (Lily Allen). The national anthems of both finalists will be presented by Tamara Khodakova and Mykhailo Humenniy – soloists from the Kyiv Municipal Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre, under the leadership of Anzhela Maslennikova.

A total of 150 million viewers are expected to watch the UEFA EURO 2012 final live.

(source: uefa.com)

BETTING ODDS

Match Result
Spain – 6/5
Draw – 11/5
Italy – 5/2

To Lift The Trophy
Spain – 8/15
Italy – 6/4

Method Of Victory
Spain in extra time – 10/1
Italy in extra time – 14/1
Spain on penalties – 9/1
Italy on penalties – 9/1

Correct Score
Spain 1-0 – 5/1
Draw 0-0 – 11/2
Italy 1-0 – 15/2
Spain 2-0 – 17/2
Draw 1-1 – 11/2
Italy 2-0 – 18/1
Spain 2-1 – 9/1
Draw 2-2 – 22/1
Italy 2-1 – 14/1
Spain 3-0 – 25/1
Draw 3-3 – 125/1
Italy 3-0 – 66/1
Spain 3-1 – 22/1
Draw 4-4 – 250/1
Italy 3-1 – 50/1

Half-Time/Full-Time
Spain / Spain – 11/4
Draw / Spain – 4/1
Italy / Spain – 28/1
Spain / Draw – 16/1
Draw / Draw – 7/2
Italy / Draw – 16/1
Spain / Italy – 33/1
Draw / Italy – 15/2
Italy / Italy – 13/2

Under/Over 2.5 Goals
Under 2.5 Goals – 4/9
Over 2.5 Goals – 13/8

Both Teams to Score
Yes – 5/4
No – 4/7

Goalscorer
No Italy Goalscorer – 6/5
No Spain Goalscorer – 15/8
Mario Balotelli – 12/5
Fernando Torres – 5/2
Cesc Fabregas – 5/2
Antonio Di Natale – 7/2
Pedro – 7/2
Antonio Cassano – 7/2
David Silva – 7/2
Fernando Llorente – 11/4
Alvaro Negredo – 11/4
Fabio Borini – 11/4
Sebastian Giovinco – 11/2
Alessandro Diamanti – 11/2
Andres Iniesta – 4/1
Andrea Pirlo – 6/1

Winning Margin
Spain by Exactly 1 Goal – 5/2
Italy by Exactly 1 Goal – 7/2
Spain by Exactly 2 Goals – 6/1
Italy by Exactly 2 Goals – 12/1
Spain by 3 or more Goals – 14/1
Italy by 3 or more Goals – 33/1

(source: skybet.com)

PREDICTION

Spain are the favourites to go and defend their European crown, but no team in the history has ever done that and so it would be a huge achievement. Spain came to Poland/Ukraine as the pre-tournament favourites, but they have not looked any where near their best. This is the best possible time to play Spain as they have grinded out results in almost all their games – except the ones against Ireland and France – and looked too tired against Portugal in the semi-finals. On the other hand, Italy have defined the odds to come so far and have beaten the likes of England and Germany on the way. The Azzurri are finding the right form at the right time in the tournament and they have all the weapons they need to hurt their opponents on the counter.

Predicted Score – Spain 0-1 Italy

England v Italy Preview

England and Italy both arrived in Poland/Ukraine to take part in UEFA EURO 2012 without much expectations, but today they meet each other in the quarter-finals in Kiev believing this could be their year. 

England topped Group D to reach this stage, preserving Roy Hodgson’s unbeaten record as national coach in the process -with four wins and a draw taken from five fixtures to date. Hodgson’s early success has been based on making his side as difficult to beat as possible, with greater emphasis placed on the need to be solid at the back and defend as a collective unit. Italy’s footballing philosophy is much the same as their opponents. It has been suggested that the two sides will cancel each other out, with the fear of losing set to outweigh the desire to attack and take the game by the scruff of the neck.

Past meetings between the two countries suggest it will be a tight affair, with all but one of the last nine encounters having ended all square or been settled by the odd goal. Unfortunately for England, they have emerged victorious in just one of those outings. The Three Lions’ record in quarter-final clashes is also not the best, having lost seven out of 10, and they are looking to grace a major semi-final for the first time in 16 years. Italy will be hoping to pile more misery on their success-starved opponents this weekend, and in Cesare Prandelli they boast a coach who is yet to taste defeat in 13 competitive matches in charge of the Azzurri.

TEAM NEWS

England

England have all 23 members of their squad fit and are in contention for a starting berth, but it is likely that the same XI which started the Three Lions’ final group game against Ukraine will take to the field in Kiev. That means James Milner’s abilities going backwards will once again be favoured over Theo Walcott’s going forward, and Danny Welbeck will get the nod ahead of Andy Carroll in the battle to partner Wayne Rooney up front. Skipper Steven Gerrard is among those one caution away from missing a possible semi-final date through suspension, with Ashley Cole, Ashley Young, Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also walking a disciplinary tightrope.

Italy

Italy have nine players cautioned and one yellow card away from missing the semi-finals, with enigmatic striker Mario Balotelli, captain Gianluigi Buffon and combative midfielder Daniele De Rossi aware that they must tread carefully. It remains to be seen whether Balotelli will be offered the opportunity to line up against a number of his Manchester City colleagues from the start, with Prandelli announcing that he will not name his team until an hour before kick-off. It is expected that Thiago Motta will be in contention for a starting role, with the midfielder having overcome a hamstring injury. Giorgio Chiellini is ruled out with a thigh problem, though, and his place is expected to go to Juventus team-mate Leonardo Bonucci.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Played – 22
England Wins – 7
Draws – 6
Italy Wins – 9

FORM GUIDE

England – WWDWW
19-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – England 1-0 Ukraine
15-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Sweden 2-3 England
11-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – France 1-1 England
02-Jun-12 – Friendly – England 1-0 Belgium
26-May-12 – Friendly – Norway 0-1 England

Italy – WDDLL
18-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Italy 2-0 Ireland
14-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Italy 1-1 Crotia
10-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 1-1 Italy
01-Jun-12 – Friendly – Italy 0-3 Russia
29-Feb-12 – Friendly – Italy 0-1 United States

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Steven Gerrard (England)
The Liverpool icon may be getting older day by day, but he has certainly enjoyed wearing the captain’s armband. In centre midfield, Gerrard’s passing, effort, and most notably his crossing and set-pieces has seen him be a driving force and set up three goals at UEFA EURO 2012. Up against pressure from Claudio Marchisio and Co, he’ll need to ensure his side make the best use of the ball when in possession, as he has done all tournament.

Wayne Rooney (England)
The talismanic striker announced his return with the winning goal in against Ukraine in the last group game. Having watched the first two games from the stands, the striker is desperate to make use of whatever opportunity he would get and made an impact in his first match itself. The Manchester United star forward has the skill to cause Italian defence some trouble and would surely be the man to watch out for in Kiev.

Andrea Pirlo (Italy)
The former AC Milan and current Juventus playmaker has been Italy’s best player in the Euros so far. His accurate passing and ability to create chances from the midfield has caused the likes of Spain, Croatia and Ireland a lot of problems in the group stages. If Pirlo – who has two assists and one goal to his name in the competition – is given a lot of space and time with the ball then he will surely create many opportunities for his teammates which will cause a lot of problems to the English defence.

Antonio Cassano (Italy)
Antonio Cassano has shown flashes of brilliance since returning from minor heart surgery that threatened to rule him out of the tournament, but was something close to his best before running out of gas in the 2-0 win over Ireland. Prandelli will look for more of the same from the Milan forward, hoping he can cause confusion in the organised English defence by dropping deep and playing some of his trademark passes into the area for his teammates to run on to.

PROBABLE LINEUPS

England (4-4-2): Joe Hart; Glen Johnson, John Terry, Joleon Lescott, Ashley Cole; James Milner, Scott Parker, Steven Gerrard (C), Ashley Young; Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck.

Roy Hodgson is expected to field the same side that defeated the co-hosts Ukraine as in the final group game as he would be keen on keeping the stability. Although Milner and Young have failed to impress, youngsters Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain look set to remain on the bench as Hodgson is set to use them as substitutes who can make a difference later in the game. The John Terry and Joleon Lescott partnership has done just enough to keep them top, but has been caught out on many occasions. Up top, the Manchester United pairing of Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck would be looking to cause trouble to the three-man Italian defence.

Italy (3-5-2): Gianluigi Buffon (C); Federico Balzaretti, Daniele De Rossi, Leonardo Bonucci; Ignazio Abate, Claudio Marchisio, Andrea Pirlo, Thiago Motta, Andrea Barzagli; Mario Balotelli, Antonio Cassano.

The Italians are expected to stick with their 3-5-2 formation, with Manchester City star Mario Balotelli starting alongside Antonio Cassano at the top. Leonardo Bonucci is expected to replace the injured Giorgio Chiellini in the back three, who would try and stop the opponents from running at in-form goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. Andrea Pirlo would be the key man in midfield once again, and the veteran would look to continue to dictate play like he has done throughout the tournament.

MATCH ODDS

England 9/5 Draw 2/1 Italy 9/5

PREDICTION

This is a game between two teams who play very similar kind of football. Both teams would make sure they stay strong at the back and won’t let their opponents create a lot of chances. The battle between Steven Gerrard and Andrea Pirlo in the heart of the midfield seems to be a mouth-watering prospect. The game is expect to be a very tight and a cagey affair and maybe a moment or two of magic may be the difference between the two sides. Both the sides will be looking towards their explosive strikers – Wayne Rooney and Mario Balotelli for some individual class. Set-pieces or a counter attack will be important in this game between two teams who have been disappointing in recent international tournaments. The game has a huge prospect of being decided in extra time or on penalties. However, with some luck, England might just win this one and book themselves a place in the semi-finals.

Predicted Score – England 2-1 Italy (A.E.T)

UEFA EURO 2012 Team Preview – Italy

Population 60.6 million Area 301,338km2 Capital Rome Currency Euro Official Language Italian

FOOTBALL FACTFILE

Football Asocciation Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio (FIGC) Official Site http://www.figc.it Year of formation 1898 Euro Ranking 7 World Ranking 12 National Stadium N/A Well-known club sides Juventus, AC Milan, Inter, Napoli Leading goalscorers Luigi Riva (35), Giuseppe Meazza (33), Silvio Piola (30) Most capped players Fabio Cannavaro (136), Paolo Maldini (126), Gianluigi Buffon (112+) European Championship finals attended 1968, 1980, 1988, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008 Best European Championship performance Winners 1968 Playing Record in European Championship P124 W67 D39 L18 Odds of winning UEFA EURO 2012 14/1

JOURNEY TO POLAND/UKRAINE

To say South Africa 2010 was a failure for Italy is an understatement – they came bottom of a group containing Slovakia, Paraguay and New Zealand. But Cesare Prandelli has reinstated a sense of calm authority, his enthusiastic approach prompting domestic press to dub his L’Italia del Sorriso, ‘the Italy of Smiles’. And nothing makes and Italian football fan happier than some well-organised defending.

Italy’ Catenaccio style served them well in UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying, they conceded the least amount of goals in qualification, picking the ball out of their net just twice. It’s scoring that appears to be their main problem. Vincenzo Iaquinta, Fabio Quagliarella and Alberto Gilardino seem past their decisive best, leaving mercurial Antonio Cassano and the temperamental mario Balotelli as the main scoring threats.

That’s not to say they had any trouble negotiating their way through their qualifying group Italy secured safe passage with two games to go, finishing with 26 points from 10 games (a national record) and Prandelli’s outfit remain unbeaten in 10 competitive fixtures.

In 2008, Roberto Donadoni’s team went out to Spain on penalties, so the Italians, will no doubt be looking for some revenge here. But looking at the group – and despite their majestic qualifying campaign – they are by no means guaranteed a quarter-final spot.

HOW THEY GOT THERE

03/09/2010 – Group C – Estonia 1-2 Italy
07/09/2010 – Group C – Italy 5-0 Faroe Islands
08/10/2010 – Group C – Northern Ireland 0-0 Italy
12/10/2010 – Group C – Italy 3-0 Serbia (Official Forfeit)
25/03/2011 – Group C – Slovenia 0-1 Italy
03/06/2011 – Group C – Italy 3-0 Estonia
02/09/2011 – Group C – Faroe Islands 0-1 Italy
06/09/2011 – Group C – Italy 1-0 Slovenia
07/10/2011 – Group C – Serbia 1-1 Italy
11/10/2011 – Group C – Italy 3-0 Northern Ireland

HOME AND AWAY KITS

 

GROUP FIXTURES – GROUP C

Sunday, 10/06 – Spain v Italy (Gdansk, 17:00)
Thursday, 14/06 – Italy v Croatia (Poznan, 17:00)
Monday, 18/06 – Italy v Republic of Ireland (Poznan, 19:45)

FINAL SQUAD

Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Morgan De Sanctis (SSC Napoli), Salvatore Sirigu (Paris Saint-Germain FC).

Defenders: Ignazio Abate (AC Milan), Federico Balzaretti (US Città di Palermo), Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Christian Maggio (SSC Napoli), Angelo Ogbonna (Torino FC).

Midfielders: Daniele De Rossi (AS Roma), Alessandro Diamanti (Bologna FC), Emanuele Giaccherini (Juventus) Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Riccardo Montolivo (ACF Fiorentina), Thiago Motta (Paris Saint-Germain FC), Antonio Nocerino (AC Milan), Andrea Pirlo (Juventus).

Forwards: Mario Balotelli (Manchester City FC), Fabio Borini (AS Roma), Antonio Cassano (AC Milan), Antonio Di Natale (Udinese Calcio), Sebastian Giovinco (FC Parma).

THE CAPTAIN & THE KEEPER – GIANLUIGI BUFFON

‘Gigi’ Buffon is a goalkeeper of some pedigree. he has been named Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year a record eight times. At the 2006 FIFA World Cup he conceded just two goals and kept five clean sheets, receiving the Yashin Award for his endeavours. On February 9 2011, Buffon played his first game as official captain of the national. He is still only 34 years old for a keeper.

THE DEFENSIVE ROCK – GIORGIO CHIELLINI

Along with Antonio Cassano, Giorgio Chiellini was the only ever-present during qualifying and, barring injury, will lead the most famous back line in world football in Poland/Ukraine. He is second vice-captain, behind Gianluigi Buffon, at Juventus and will assume similar responsibilities at UEFA EURO 2012 with Daniele De Rossi. In short, you won’t see any nonsense from Mr. Chiellini this summer.

STAR MAN – ANTONIO CASSANO

A capricious, unpredictable footballer, Cassano was totally overlooked during Marcello Lippi’s unsuccessful reign (a decision deemed fair enough by most), but he has been a revelation under Cesare Prandelli, top-scoring in qualifying with six goals. Quick of mind and of foot, Cassano has the ability to do the unexpected: a gift that, if used sparing and effectively, could propel this Italian side onto more trophy-lifting glory.

THE MANAGER – CESARE PRANDELLI

Marcello Lippi was a revered manager with a reputation for success, but he failed miserably in the Italian hotset second time around. Change was needed and it came in the guise of mind-mannered Cesare Prandelli. He had just taken Fiorentina to the last 16 of the Champions League, at which point they were controversially eliminated by Bayern Munich. Has introduced a much-needed sense of calm to the Italy camp, which has resulted in some more settled and pragmatic performances.

TOURNAMENT PREDICTION

Quarter-Finals – Italy are not in an easy group but they are likely to join Spain in progressing from Group C but will probably face either France or England in the next round. Although they possess some brilliant players in their ranks, but they lack the leadership and the real world-class qualities of past teams. Both England and France should have enough quality in them to see of the Italians in the second round.