Eye-opener for champions
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For Spain, it was a bit of a stumble. For the scandal-hit Italy, it was a bit of a reprieve.
Playing for a third straight major title, Spain had to rally for a 1-1 draw against Italy on Sunday. Antonio Di Natale put Italy in front after an excellent setup from Andrea Pirlo in the 61st minute, but Cesc Fabregas equalised for the defending champions three minutes later by finishing off a dazzling display of Spain's trademark passing game.
"Being the favorite now is complicated, but in the end we found the character (to earn a draw)," Fabregas said.
Spain, who followed up their Euro 2008 victory with the 2010 World Cup title, dominated the Group C match for long stretches but struggled to finish at times, while Italy relied on dangerous counterattacks. The draw ended a 14-match winning streak for Spain in competitive matches, which began after a 1-0 loss to Switzerland to open the last World Cup.
"The thing that really disappoints us is that we allowed them to equalize very quickly," Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said. "We were playing the world champions and we should have made them work harder to get back into the game. We gave Spain the chance to score goals. We need to improve, but that's our mentality."
Spain sprang up a surprise by starting with no recognised strikers in their lineup, with Fabregas at forward between David Silva and Andres Iniesta — leaving Fernando Torres, Alvaro Negredo and Fernando Llorente on the bench. Italy countered with an attack of Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli and an untested three-man defence.
Di Natale replaced Balotelli in the 56th and scored five minutes later, collecting a pass from Pirlo just as he slipped in between two defenders, then expertly shooting around Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas. The 34-year-old Di Natale has scored 20 or more goals the past three seasons with Udinese in Serie A.
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