Last updated at 19:45, Sunday 1st July 2012

Early Azzurri can shoot for glory


Mike Holden
Euro 2012 - Spain v Italy
2pts Italy to win the first half against Spain at 9/2Azzurri have been ahead at the break in three of their five games - it could easily have been all five.1pt Italy/Italy double result against Spain at 7/1If Prandelli's men strike early, they've got ample experience to close out for victory.

Italy stunned the punting world with Mario Balotelli's early double-salvo against Germany on Thursday and we reckon lightning can strike twice with another sharpshooting display from the Azzurri in Sunday's final against Spain - take the 9/2 on Italy to win the first half and back it up with a bet on the Italy/Italy double result at 7/1.

They say this Italy team is different from previous incarnations but there's something eerily familiar about their tournament mentality. Having squeezed out of the group without really convincing, then making hard work of their quarter-final success over England, they now arrive at the final on the back of one blockbuster performance when it mattered most.

That's not to undermine the flashes of promise shown by Cesare Prandelli's men prior to their whirlwind show in Warsaw. An opening game against the defending champions offered evidence of some inventive tactical thinking and confirmed they weren't short of technical ability.

However, it was hard to escape the feeling that this was a tournament too soon for them to reap the rewards of a new philosophy. It might be the last stand for chief string-puller Andrea Pirlo, but moments of enlightenment felt like early visions of a brighter future rather than the rumblings of something more immediate.

Back Italy to win the first half at 9/2
Even as they progressed from a tight section at the expense of Croatia, you could back the Italians at double-figure prices. In the moments leading up to their triumph over the Nationalmannschaft, they were still 6/1 in a three-horse race. As it turned out, this was a wolf in sheep's clothing. Now Little Roja Riding Hood might live to regret refusing that Biscotto when it was on a plate.

The manner in which Italy picked apart the Germans illustrates the strength of mind inherent in their national identity. Lesser nations just don't pull-off those kind of shocks in semi-finals, and we shouldn't doubt for a moment that the Azzurri can exert some sense of superiority against the Spanish. They might be underdogs on paper, but they hold the upper hand in history.

Spain claim to have dealt with their Italian hoodoo having edged them out on penalties four years ago, but watch the old insecurities come flooding back if Italy do strike early. We don't disagree too vehemently with the 11/10 quotes about a Spanish victory in normal time and we're only mildly contrary to the 4/7 available on them lifting the trophy. It's the method that the Italians are likely to come by success that appeals.

We all know the dance by know. Spain use possession as their main weapon, they wear opponents down for prolonged periods and usually inflict the moment of truth with the matador's sword later on. So we find it rather more difficult to envisage Italy being triumphant without securing an early advantage. If they're not ahead inside the first hour, then the second hour until the shoot-out is going to be a long one.

The Azzurri have been ahead at half-time in three of their five matches at this tournament but it could so easily have been all five had Balotelli and Antonio Cassano been alive to all of the chances they've been presented with. If they do seize an early initiative, then they clearly have the ability and experience to close the game out.

Back the Italy/Italy double result at 7/1

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