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Euro 2012: Gianluigi Buffon sure Italy can win mind games one final time

The Italian captain insists his sidee have a 'unique' ability, and Spain's Vicente del Bosque is keeping cool over the 'favourites' label ahead of the Kiev showdown on Sunday.

Gianluigi Buffon likes the chance that his Italy side have against Spain, who are widely considered the favourites to win the Euro 2012 final on Sunday in Kiev.
Gianluigi Buffon likes the chance that his Italy side have against Spain, who are widely considered the favourites to win the Euro 2012 final on Sunday in Kiev.

 

KIEV // Gianluigi Buffon insists Italian footballers are mentally attuned to excel in adversity and hopes his side prove it by beating Spain in the Euro 2012 final on Sunday night.

Italy's national team won the World Cup against a backdrop of corruption scandals in their domestic game in both 1982 and 2006.

Much attention has centred on the fact history has repeated itself in the build-up to this tournament in Poland and Ukraine, with the Italian game again mired in a match-fixing furore.

The Italians were not fancied to advance this far: even Buffon, their captain, said they could not win the competition in an interview after the pool match against Croatia.

However, the Juventus goalkeeper now believes his side have the chance to exceed their "physical limitations" by thwarting Spain's bid for a third successive major title.

"I think there is something unique in the Italian mentality," said Buffon, who acknowledges it will be a surprise to most if they won. "Beyond all the rumours you hear, Italians have a lot of responsibility, love and affection for the national shirt which goes above and beyond our physical limitations.

"We have the chance to show just how great our country is. We are all thinking along the same lines and that really is our strength."

Italy's unlikely run to Sunday night's showpiece match at the Olympic Stadium in the Ukraine capital has been spearheaded by two famously temperamental strikers.

Cesare Prandelli, the Italy manager, believes the growing importance of Antonio Cassano, who had heart surgery in November, to his side is because of the added responsibility the player has assumed by becoming a father.

Meanwhile, Mario Balotelli, Cassano's partner in attack, has thrived because of the players around him, according to his coach.

"He has found a set-up where he can naturally speak to great champions who have won a lot of trophies, top players who have put a lot of work in to achieve a lot in football," Prandelli said of the Manchester City striker.

"There comes a time when you have to be brave enough to accept people's advice.

"From a footballing situation we were absolutely clear with him. After the Croatia game we asked him to do certain things and he is doing them very well, indeed."

Buffon believes Prandelli deserves much of the credit for the way Balotelli has flourished in this competition.

"He has come into a squad where there are a lot of star players - not only football stars but stars in general," the goalkeeper said.

"He has also come in and worked with a coach who, in a number of different ways, has managed to get the most out of him.

"I think he deserves credit because he has worked hard and wanted to succeed, but credit should also go to the rest of the squad."

Vicente del Bosque, Spain's laid-back coach, has attempted to play down the favourites tag that has been affixed to his European and world champion side in every match at this competition.

He was at it again yesterday, suggesting Spain are no better than "50-50" to beat the Italians, despite recent form suggesting otherwise.

"We cannot look back," Del Bosque said. "We cannot think history influences anything.

"Italy are four-time world champions. We won this competition four years ago. We have had similar tournaments.

"We were in the same group, have similar star players and both had to come through penalties. I don't think we can say there are great differences between the teams."

Spain can achieve the unique feat of three successive major titles, and Iker Casillas, the captain, believes his side have good experience to lean on.

He said that in winning the Euro 2008 championship "we achieved something that nobody would expect because we hadn't done anything like that before".

The Real Madrid goalkeeper added: "The evolution of the team is quite visible. Four years ago Spain was in the final and we never imagined we would win that and the World Cup. History has been created already."

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