The 2012 European Champions will be crowned on Sunday, as the Euro 2012 Final at the Kiev Olympic Stadium in Ukraine will take place at 9:45 local time. Will Spain retain their throne as European Champions and in the process win their third consecutive major tournament, or will the surprise finalists from Italy stage an upset and win the country's second major tournament in the last six years alone? The following article previews what promises to be a final ripe with fantastic soccer.
Player to watch for Spain: Xavi - It's tough to pick just one player from a Spanish side overflowing with so much talent that the in-form Cesc Fabregas has not even been a lock in the starting lineup for Spanish manager Vicente del Bosque, but Xavi is the key cog that makes the Spanish engine go.
When the Spanish are able to boss the ball possession-wise, which most of the time they are able to do, they can frustrate and tire out opponents who are constantly forced to chase and play defense. As the game wears on, the Spanish are usually able to consistently possess the ball further and further forward and find openings to put the ball in the back of the net.
The player for Spain who sets the possession attack in motion and often threads brilliant balls through to teammates for goal scoring opportunities is Xavi. Xavi is the one who keeps the Spanish playing their game and settles them down and into their possession dominance seemingly by his mere presence. If Xavi has a bad game, the Spanish will have loads of trouble. Fortunately for Espana, Xavi has been in top form recently, and always seems to show up in the big games.
Difference Maker off the Bench for Spain: Cesc Fabregas/Fernando Torres (Whoever doesn't start) -No one knows for sure what lineup del Bosque will draw up for the final, but judging by the Spanish lineups to date, it won't include Torres and Fabregas. If Spain start the game with a "false number 9" by giving Fabregas the nod, they may struggle to create chances against a stout Italian defense. If Spain are in need of a goal late, expect Torres to enter the game. Last Euros he scored the game winning goal in the final against Germany to propel the Spanish to victory.
On the other hand, if "El Nino" gets the start, don't expect Fabregas to sit on the bench the whole game. Given Torres' inconsistent play, if Spain can't break down the Italian defense early on, del Bosque will turn to Cesc for flair, ingenuity, and creativity in the attack. Cesc has been fantastic for the Spanish, and will be looking to finally play a major role for Spain in a major tournament. If the game begins with him on the bench, when he enters the game, he will be looking to inspire the Spanish to victory.
Spain will win if: They go into halftime with the lead. If Spain take the early lead, their possession dominance will allow them to take the air out of the ball. If the Italians don't have the ball, they can't score. So, if Spain score early, it will be a tough hill to climb for the Italians.
Spain will lose if: Italy disrupt the Spanish possession dominance. If the Italians can take away Spain's whole game, Spain may not react well. No one really knows for sure how they will react since no one has been able to accomplish this feat. But, if Italy come out like they did versus Germany and take hold of the game, Spain will be forced to attack with a sense of urgency, which potentially could open the game up for the Italians to create even more chances against a slightly suspect Spanish defense.
Prediction: Spain win 2-1, with all goals coming after halftime in a tightly contested match. Spain go up 1-0 only to see Balotelli equalise before Fernando Torres scores a late winner for the Spanish.
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Drew has been covering soccer for Yahoo! Sports since 2010. His favorite club team is Liverpool, while he natrually is a USA fan when it comes to international soccer. Out of European nations, Germany have always been his favorite national team.