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KIEV, Ukraine: Stingy as it may be, Spain’s defenders are still a little worried about their rematch with Mario Balotelli and Italy in the European Championship final.
Spain’s bid to win a third straight major title comes Sunday at Kiev’s Olympic Stadium, where the Mediterranean rivals meet for a second time, after starting Euro 2012 with a 1-1 draw.
Spain hasn’t conceded since then and has reached the final with the fewest goals conceded since West Germany went on to win the tournament 40 years ago. In fact, Spain’s defense hasn’t been breached in its last nine knockout games.
After Balotelli scored twice in his team’s 2-1 victory over Germany in the semifinals, defender Sergio Ramos said Friday “it would be a lie to say I’m not worried about them but we are not obsessing over” Italy.
“They are where they are today because of the way they’ve played,” Ramos said at Dynamo Kiev’s stadium. “They really took the game to us, led by two strikers as they looked to hit us on the counter. We can’t start worrying about them, we have to stay calm and stick to our philosophy of play.
Balotelli’s goals against Germany on Thursday saw the mercurial Manchester City striker overcome a poor start to the tournament, which included wasting a glorious opportunity alone in front of goal against Spain.
“He’s a great player and he showed that again yesterday,” midfielder Cesc Fabregas said. “To score like that in the semifinal against Germany says it all. We have to try and throw him off his game because he is a player who can cause problems.”
One advantage for Spain is that Ramos and Gerard Pique have gelled as centerbacks after struggling in their first competitive pairing, which was against Italy.
“That’s a positive aspect, it can facilitate things for us,” said Ramos, who added that Spain would pay particular attention to Balotelli, Antonio Cassano and Andrea Pirlo.
Spain is on the verge of becoming the first team to retain its European title after winning the World Cup. West Germany had that chance in 1976 but lost to Czechoslovakia on penalties.
The current world champions needed penalties to beat Portugal in the semifinals after the game finished 0-0, despite extra-time. Though Ramos and Fabregas both scored in the shootout, Spain is hoping that its potential place in history is not decided on penalties on Sunday.
And with greatness so near, it’s not surprising that the players are all too well aware of the stakes.
“The truth is, yes, it is something we think about,” Ramos said. “That’s what we’re playing for on Sunday, it’s something that will never be surpassed as no other national team has managed it before and we have the chance now to do it.”
“Whatever happens Sunday, Spain has already made history, but we obviously want to win this European championship again after all the work this team has done,” Ramos said.
“It’s cost us a lot to get where we are, now we have to show our best level against a great team.” -- AP