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Euro 2012 final projections

AccuScore simulated the 2012 European Championship final 10,000 times and calculated Spain to be favorites but not nearly as strong as most would expect. The computer calculates Spain to have a 58-percent chance of hoisting the cup, meaning Italy has a respectable 42-percent probability of pulling the upset. In terms of goal scorers, the computer calculates Mario Balotelli to be the most likely Spanish or Italian player to make the score sheet at 35 percent.

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Cesc Fabregas figures to return to Spain's starting XI. (AP)

The final will be the second meeting between Italy and Spain at Euro 2012. In the tournament opener for both teams, Cesare Prandelli’s Italy raised a few eyebrows at the way it attacked Spain, the defending European and world champions. When Antonio Di Natale came on as a substitute to take a 1-0 lead just past the hour mark, Spain’s hour at the top seemed to be up.

Spain, however, took just three minutes to level the score by finally finishing off a passing move that involved Andres Iniesta, David Silva and Cesc Fabregas. Spain created more chances during the match and dominated possession, but Italy certainly had moments that caused Spanish defenders serious discomfort.

Since that opening match, Spain has come full circle. After trying both Fernando Torres and Alvaro Negredo at striker, Vincente Del Bosque is expected to return to a Spanish lineup which features no natural striker.

In the first match against Italy, Fabregas made a mess of several chances raising questions about whether Spain would be better off starting one of the three strikers on the bench. Spain did start a striker for the next two matches, Fernando Torres, but after a couple of wins, Spain again reverted to Fabregas playing as a false No. 9 against France in the quarterfinal.

Surprisingly, in the semifinal against Portugal, Del Bosque tried to include a natural striker again, but this time, he we went with Negredo, who played 54 uninspired minutes before Fabregas came on to play in the attacking role. Spain would go on to win on penalties and looked a significantly more dangerous attacking side after Jesus Navas and Pedro came on. Whether Del Bosque starts either winger is a mystery, but if he does, David Silva is the man most likely to take a seat.

Italy had its own striking questions arise from the group stage meeting. With Antonio Di Natale coming on to score against Spain, Italian media began to call for Di Natale to start and Balotelli to sit. In the final group match against Ireland, Di Natale did start and Balotelli came on to score a fantastic goal displaying natural ability. Since then, Balotelli’s place in the starting lineup has been secure.

In the semifinal against Germany, the 21 year-old Mario Balotelli scored a fantastic first-half double and crushed the Germans' dreams of winning Euro 2012. Both goals were spectacular, and despite all the negative attention Balotelli receives off the pitch, he is a world-class goal scorer.

Balotelli is on the verge of achieving a tremendous amount of success at a remarkably early age. With Inter Milan, he won three Serie A titles, the Coppa Italia and the Champions League. With Manchester City, Balotelli has already won the Premier League and the FA Cup. Now, at the tender age of 21, he is on the verge of winning the European Championship. Balotelli is hardly a sideshow at this point; he is a supreme talent who continues to perform in big matches. If Mario can score in the final (and he is the most likely scorer), the computer upgrades Italy’s chances of winning to 67 percent.

It seems all Italian hopes and eyes are on Mario Balotelli at the moment. Considering he has even started celebrating goals these days, if he does score the match winner in the final, don’t bother asking, “Why always him?” Just get used to it.

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