Extra-time beckons in final that is just too close to call

SPAIN
ITALY
Sunday – 7.45 pm BBC One

SPAIN have quietened the doubters and now they have the chance to silence them in the European Championship showdown against Italy on Sunday.

It might have been more of a slog than their previous journeys to the finals of Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup, but Vicente del Bosque’s men stand on the verge of history, with the chance to become the first side to win three successive major tournaments and the first to retain the Henri Delaunay Trophy.

I was among the ranks of those who had misgivings about whether Spain could live up to their billing as antepost favourites. Even during the tournament their performances haven’t been the stuff of champions and the bookmakers reacted by shortening Germany to the head of the betting, yet they have dragged themselves to the last stage of the competition. It truly is a great side that continues to rack up the victories when they are not playing so well.

The semi-final against Portugal was Del Bosque’s 60th fixture in charge and La Roja have won 50 of those. And, like Wednesday’s game, on the occasions when there is no way through, they just don’t give up. They are now unbeaten in 19 competitive games since Switzerland gave them a fright at the beginning of the World Cup in South Africa.

Something else Cristiano Ronaldo and co. failed to do was score. Not that there should be much surprise there: Iker Casillas and his back four of Alvaro Arbeloa, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos and Jordi Alba have only conceded once in the entire tournament, the best goals against record of any nation in Poland and Ukraine.

Spain and Italy couldn’t be split when they played out a 1-1 stalemate in the opening game of Group C three weeks ago, but the Azzurri were undoubtedly more impressive in their semi than the Spanish were, with Mario Balotelli showing what a world-class player he can be.

Any side which can topple another as talented Germany has a great chance, but given Spain’s recent history, they are deservedly favourites.

However, another hard-fought battle is likely to be on the cards here. Both teams have quality to spare and either could win, but I’d prefer to back the draw, at 9/4 with Coral. It would be no surprise to see the game going the distance into extra-time and even penalties, so taking the same firm’s 6/1 for no goalscorer seems a wise choice to me.

Regular readers of this column will know that, due to the nature of the occasion, I am a dedicated seller of goals when it comes to finals and I see no reason to change my stance for this contest, with spread bettors advised to go short of Sporting Index’s quote of 2-2.2.

A single strike has settled the last two European finals – from the boot of Fernando Torres against Germany four years ago and the head of Angelos Charisteas in 2004 – while the five prior to that saw just two goals each in normal time. It is a similar story in the World

Cup, where France ‘98, when the hosts won 3-0,stands alone among the past six finals as one that more than two goals were scored in.

Pointers…

Draw at 9/4 with Coral
No goalscorer at 6/1 with Coral
Sell total goals at 2 with Sporting Index