KYIV: Italy coach Cesare Prandelli will select a team to face Spain in the Euro 2012 final in Kyiv’s Olympic Stadium which will enable him to vary his tactics during the game between a strategy relying on three or four defenders at different phases of play writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

In Group C Italy drew 1-1 with Spain in Gdansk in what was the opening game for both teams. The Italians had started with three defenders which provided the possibility of five men in midfield to counter Spain’s possession game.

Prandelli said, before Italy’s evening training session on the match pitch: “I am not going to say I will play with three defenders because, over the last few games, with four defenders, we have had a lot of balance in the side. However, we have  learned that over the course of game we can switch to that system so we could have three at the back at some stage.”

He added: “Spain’s strength is not only in the way they maintain possession but in the way they win it back a long way from their own goal. We’ve got to be very good during the game and pick lour moments when we have a numerical superiority in some area of the pitch.

“We don’t expect to be in charge of the game from first to last minute but we know we can play our football when the chance arises.

“We’ve risked a little with our new style of play but, whatever the result here, we will need to keep on working in the same way. It’s a difficult route to take but we need to keep going down this path and it will eventually bear fruit.”

Prandelli said that the team had received an inspirational letter from Italy’s state President Giorgio Napolitano which he would read out to his players as a source of inspiration in the dressingroom before kick-off.

He said: “These are fantastic words from president. His letter to us conveys the idea of team spirit, determination and selflessness to us and the country and we hope we can live up to his expectations. 

Prandelli had particular words of praise for his strikers Antonio Cassano – who has recovered remarkably after a heart incident in midseason – and for three-goal top scorer Mario Balotelli.

He said: “I have not been surprised by Antonio Cassano’s form because we soon realised he has unbelievable determination to be one of the key players and he has worked very hard. I don’t think the illness has helped him improve but his son has been born and with becoming a father he’s taken on more responsibility.

“As for Mario, he’s found a set-up where he can talk to great champions who have won a lot, top players who have put in a lot to win these trophies. There comes a time when you need to be brave, to accept advice and situations like this when your responsibility becomes paramount.

“We were very clear with him – after the Croatia game we asked Mario to do certain things and he’s doing them very well.”

Buffon backs Balotelli

Prandelli’s praise for the Manchester City striker was echoed by captain Gianluigi Buffon. The veteran Juventus goalkeeper said: “Mario’s done very well so far because first and foremost he’s got great natural talent. He’s come into a squad with a lot of star players not only in footballing terms but stars in general.

“He’s also found a coach like ours who has managed to get the best out of him. So I think he deserves the most credit for this because he’s really worked hard and wanted to succeed – and credit should also go to the rest of the squad.”

Coach and captain were also diplomatic and respectful in their references to Spain.

Prandelli said: “Spain have been the best side in the world over the last few years. They have played their own way and stayed true to their footballing philosphy and we’ve always said they are the side to beat.”

Buffon agreed but expressed cautious confidence that Italy had the weapons to end the reign of Spain.

He said: “Spain have more chances of winning because they’ve been working together for four years and have a lot of trophies and self confidence and talent. Italy have been the surprise side in this tournament so let’s hope we can keep on being a surprise side.”

Buffon then went on to describe the power of the mental strength on which Italy can call.

He said: “There is something unique in the Italian mentality. Beyond all that’s been said, all the rumours you hear, Italians have a lot of respect and love for the national shirt which takes us beyond our physical limitations so we want to show just how great our country is – it’s not always easy but we find a way to develop solidarity among us. We all think along the same lines and that is our strength.”

Prandelli dismissed suggestions that Spain’s football had become boring.

He said: “I don’t think they’re boring. The only reason they have been criticised is that some people fear seeing the same side always winning. Spain’s football is not boring in any way.”

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