Spain and Italy shared the spoils after an enthralling opening Group C encounter at the Arena Gdansk produced a 1-1 draw.
This was one of the most anticipated games of the UEFA EURO 2012 group stage and it did not disappoint with substitute Antonio Di Natale giving Cesare Prandelli’s side a 61st-minute lead before Cesc Fàbregas levelled proceedings shortly afterwards.
Fàbregas struck the winning penalty in Spain’s shoot-out success against Italy at the quarter-final stage of UEFA EURO 2008 and the FC Barcelona midfielder was once again at the centre of attention beforehand when it was announced he would be offered a forward role that many had expected Álvaro Negredo or Fernando Torres to fill.
Showing no signs of the thigh injury that hampered his tournament preparations, Fàbregas combined well with Andrés Iniesta and David Silva in the early stages when the Manchester City FC player failed to find the target twice with efforts from distance.
Despite overseeing three friendly defeats in the build-up to this tournament, Prandelli had exuded calm at his pre-match press conference and his team personified serenity as they sought to break through a Spain side unbeaten in their previous 14 competitive encounters. Featuring in his 84th game for the Azzurri, Andrea Pirlo almost opened the scoring with a free-kick that flew low past the Spanish wall and onto the outstretched hands of goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
It would develop into a busy opening half for Spain’s captain who was then called on to deal with Antonio Cassano’s low drive from the left. Although Iniesta offered some respite with a shot over the bar at the other end, Casillas was soon in action again, this time producing a one-handed save to stop a header from the unmarked Thiago Motta.
Prior to the 30th meeting between these teams, Spain coach Vicente del Bosque warned his players of the dangers inherent in losing their opening game in Poland and the world champions responded to that threat by increasing the pace after the restart and testing Buffon through efforts from Fàbregas and then Iniesta.
Mario Balotelli failed to take advantage of Sergio Ramos’s slip as the half progressed and was soon substituted by Di Natale who immediately repaid his coach’s faith by opening his body before expertly finishing past Casillas after Pirlo had played him through. The 2006 world champions were not celebrating long, however, as Fàbregas applied a first-time finish to what appeared a training-ground move involving lightning-quick passes from Iniesta and then Silva.
With the game now being played at an electric pace, Silva’s replacement Torres looked to edge his side in front after racing clear but he was met by an upstanding Buffon who ushered the danger away from the feet of the recent UEFA Champions League winner. A one-two with Xavi Hernández then led to Torres finding more space but the striker’s lob landed on the roof of the net. It was not to be for Torres but neither side will be unduly unhappy with an opening point.