Spain and Italy draw in a Euro 2012 opener, prompting Spanish consternation and Italian joy

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

Andres Iniesta believes Spain no longer can be considered the favorite to win an unprecedented three straight international titles at Euro 2012 after its labored 1-1 draw with Italy in Gdansk on Sunday. Iniesta, a Spanish midfielder who scored the winner in the World Cup final in 2010, recognized that the reigning European champion will need to perform at a significantly higher level to retain its crown.

An equalizing second-half goal from Cesc Fabregas rescued a point for Spain in its opening Group C clash, after Antonio Di Natale had put Italy ahead on the hour.

"There needs to be more from us," Iniesta said. "We know this competition is going to be difficult, and it will be our toughest challenge to date for certain. Everything we have achieved in the past was wonderful, but it doesn't help us here.

"Of course it is our stated target to emerge as champions again, but for that to become a reality then we need to increase our levels. This is not enough."

Failing to win its opening game should not be seen as a disaster for Spain. Italy was the team that took it closest at Euro 2008, playing out a 0-0 draw in the quarterfinal before losing in a penalty shootout. In the World Cup, Spain suffered a shock defeat to Switzerland in its first match before reeling off six consecutive wins to lift the trophy.

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However, there are concerns among Spain fans that the squad does not seem to have the same level of cohesion as in previous tournaments, a belief fueled by not-so-private bickering between players from La Liga rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The suspicions may have merit, but it also would be no surprise to see Spain iron out any wrinkles and rediscover top form before too long. A safe passage to the quarterfinals should be negotiated without too much difficulty, with games against Ireland and Croatia coming up. Spain must be considered a favorite against any opponent, regardless of what Iniesta said.

For a while Sunday, it looked as if Spain might be headed for a loss. Italy had done well to stifle Spain's flowing passing game, which seemed to lack a fraction of its trademark flair.

Italy's breaks had some snap to them, and Di Natale's goal came courtesy of an excellent finish. Andrea Pirlo slid a beautiful pass through the Spain defense and Di Natale, who had only been on the field for a few minutes after replacing Mario Balotelli, clipped the ball calmly past Iker Casillas.

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Falling behind seemed to restore some of Spain's luster, for a while at least. David Silva set up Fabregas for the equalizer, and the Barcelona midfielder made no mistake from close range.

For Italy, this was a positive start to Euro, and the side seemed to have been energized rather than distracted by the match-fixing scandal rocking Italian soccer.

However, Spain could have snatched a late victory and likely would have if not for Fernando Torres' ongoing struggles in front of goal. A string of better performances late in the season earned Torres his place on the squad, but he still lacks his former killer touch in front of goal and squandered two late chances after coming on as a substitute.

He, like many of his teammates, will need things to click into place if he is going to make a serous impact on the tournament.

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