Valdes Wary of Veteran Pirlo
Spain goalkeeper Victor Valdes believes his side will need to pay special attention to Italy playmaker Andrea Pirlo on Sunday night as the reigning champions look to start Euro 2012 on a winning note.
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Spain head into the tournament looking to become the first country to claim back-to-back European Championships and, with 19 members of their 2010 World Cup-winning squad heading to Poland and Ukraine, few would be surprised to see La Roja write another page in the history books.
They face a tricky start to the defence of their title though after being pitted against 2006 world champions Italy in their opening Group C match, and in veteran Pirlo, Valdes knows the Azzurri have someone who can make life difficult for the Spanish.
The Barcelona goalkeeper said of the 33-year-old Juventus man: "He's the player that carries the Italian midfield.
"Everything goes through him. They have wingers that get forward a lot, they go on the attack. The strikers play quite deep, but they are always looking for that assist from Pirlo. We'll have to keep an eye on him and how we can counter that type of play."
Real Madrid defender Alvaro Arbeloa is another who has plenty of respect for Italy heading into this weekend's game despite their opponents' poor recent form.
Italy have lost their last three friendly matches without scoring a goal, going down 1-0 at home to Uruguay in November and also against the USA in February, before losing 3-0 at home to Russia last Friday.
That loss came days after Italy's proposed friendly against Luxembourg was cancelled following an earthquake in the northern part of the country.
It is therefore hard to judge how Cesare Prandelli's men - who have also had to contend with a match-fixing scandal - will perform on Sunday but Arbeloa is not underestimating the threat posed by a nation that has won the World Cup four times and also claimed the 1968 European Championship.
Arbeloa, who was part of the Spain side that lost 2-1 to Italy in a friendly last August, told www.uefa.com: "Italy can be struggling, perhaps not controlling the game, looking like they are not doing anything, but they are able to hold on, and then with one chance they can win the match.
"That is how the Italians are; they have that competitive edge, that winning nature that has seen them win so many titles."
After facing Italy, Spain take on the Republic of Ireland on June 14 before completing their Group C fixtures against Croatia on June 18, with all three match taking place in Gdansk, Poland.