Baden, June 21
Consistent challengers against proven champions. Young vs old. Fast starter against slow. The contrasts couldnâ€™t be greater between Spain and Italy entering Sundayâ€™s European Championship quarter-finals.
The Iberianâ€™s only major title came when they hosted the 1964 European Championship, while Italy are only two years from their fourth World Cup title. Spain boast the third-youngest squad of the tournament with an average age of 26.44. Italyâ€™s average of 29.14 is the oldest.
Spain blitzed through the group stage with three straight victories over Russia, Spain and Greece, scoring eight goals.
Italy scraped by with a lopsided 3-0 loss to the Netherlands, an uninspiring 1-1 draw with Romania and a laborious 2-0 win over 10-man France.
â€œWith the record they have they are the favourites,â€ Spain striker Fernando Torres said. â€œMaybe they didnâ€™t have a brilliant group stage but they didnâ€™t either in the (2006) World Cup and they ended up winning it.â€
Spain havenâ€™t beaten Italy in a major senior competition since the 1920 Antwerp Olympics. â€œI donâ€™t want to know about the statistics,â€ Italy coach Roberto Donadoni said. â€œAll I can say is that Spain is in great form. If you donâ€™t get a handle on them right away, it risks becoming very complicated. We know what they bring to the table.â€
In March, Spain beat Italy 1-0 in a friendly through a late volley from David Villa, who leads all scorers at Euro 2008 with four goals - three of them coming with a hat-trick when Spain opened with a 4-1 rout of Russia.
Spain are riding a 19-match unbeaten streak, but the Iberians have a habit of not getting past the quarter-finals in major tournaments. At the 2006 World Cup, a Spanish team brimming with confidence cruised through the group stage with three solid wins only to be sent home by France in the first knockout round.
The match at the Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna is the first official meeting between the two sides since the 1994 World Cup, when Roberto Baggioâ€™s late goal gave Italy a 2-1 win and a spot in the semi-finals. The Spaniards best remember that match for how Italy defender Mauro Tassotti broke forward Luis Enriqueâ€™s nose in injury time. Donadoni was a starter in the midfield on the 1994 squad.
Italy have midfield worries this time around, since Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso are both suspended due to accumulated cards. Massimo Ambrosini and Alberto Aquilani are the likely substitutes.
Defender Andrea Barzagli was ruled out of the tournament due to a left knee injury on Thursday, and Italy were already without captain Fabio Cannavaro, who tore tendons in his ankle before the tournament began.
Besides Villaâ€™s four goals, Torres has scored once and Daniel Guiza added one against Greece. Italyâ€™s seven attacking players are still scoreless. Defender Christian Panucci scored in the 1-1 draw with Romania, while Pirlo and fellow midfielder Daniele De Rossi scored against France. Centre forward Luca Toni has let his mustache grow along with his scoreless streak, which dates back to a friendly against Portugal in February.