FORTALEZA, Brazil // Weakened by injury and chastened by the memory of a crushing loss to the same opponents 12 months ago, Italy have vowed to use their imagination when they meet Spain in Thursday's Confederations Cup semi-final.
The match at Fortaleza's Estadio Castelao is a repeat of last year's Euro 2012 final, when Spain cruised to a 4-0 win to claim an unprecedented third consecutive major international title.
Having swept through the group phase at the Confederations Cup with three consecutive wins, the world and European champions were the favourites to advance to the final even before Italy's injury problems struck.
The striker Mario Balotelli and the right-back Ignazio Abate have been ruled out of the tournament, although the midfielders Riccardo Montolivo and Andrea Pirlo are both expected to feature against Spain.
Pirlo missed Saturday's 4-2 loss to Brazil with a calf injury, while Montolivo took a blow to the head in the same game. Both players have since resumed training.
Balotelli's early departure from the tournament with a thigh injury is a heavy blow, the AC Milan striker having emerged in the past 12 months as the most important attacking player for the Italy coach Cesare Prandelli. The Bologna striker Alberto Gilardino is in line to deputise.
In the expectation that Spain will dominate possession as they habitually do, Prandelli has stated that Italy may have to do "something innovative" tactically.
Italian media reports suggest the former Fiorentina manager will deploy a compact 3-5-2 formation, with an all-Juventus back three of Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli.
The system helped Italy stymie Spain in their opening match at Euro 2012, which ended in a 1-1 draw, and when Prandelli reverted to a four-man defence in the final, his team were swept aside.
The Italy midfielder Claudio Marchisio believes his side have the tools to win.
"They're the strongest team, the champions, who have won everything, but we're not playing to lose," he said, referring to Spain. "We got to the final of the European Championship and we have the possibility to get to the final of the Confederations Cup, which is a big motivation.
"Spain haven't changed much. We know their style of play perfectly. We sometimes change our tactical system, but we always play in the same way."
Sergio Ramos, the Spain defender, said: "At stake is the final of an important competition, and everyone dreams of playing in a final at the Maracana."
Andres Iniesta v Andrea Pirlo Identical playing styles with almost identical records: both are World Cup winners, have tasted success in the Uefa Champions League and won several domestic honours in Spain and Italy, respectively.
Italy have conceded eight goals in three games, virtually unheard of in tournament play, and coach Cesare Prandelli may switch to a 3-5-2 formation in order to combat Spain’s midfield prowess. Daniele de Rossi is likely to return alongside Pirlo, offering gumption and guile in the centre of the park.
Spain’s 4-0 win in the Euro 2012 final was their biggest against Italy. They had never before beaten the Azzurri by more than two goals.
Spain (4-3-2-1) Valdes; Arbeloa, Pique, Ramos, Alba; Iniesta, Xavi, Busquets; Pedro, Mata; Torres
Italy (3-5-2) Buffon; Bonucci, Chiellini, Barzagli; De Rossi, Pirlo, Marchisio, Aquilani, Montolivio; Diamanti, Gilardino
• Spain are unbeaten in 28 competitive games since losing to Switzerland at the 2010 World Cup.
• Fernando Torres, above, has eight goals in Confederations Cup history – only Ronaldinho and Cuauhtemoc Blanco (nine) have more.
• Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon faced 20 shots on target during the group stages, more than any other goalkeeper.
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