Spain coach Vicente del Bosque has no regrets over passing up the chance to eliminate Italy from UEFA EURO 2012 ahead of his side's meeting with Cesare Prandelli's men in Sunday's final. Going into their final Group C match, the world and European champions knew that a 2-2 draw against Croatia would see both teams qualify for the knockout stage at the Italians' expense, no matter what they did in their game against the Republic of Ireland.
There was wide speculation from fans and the press of a 'biscotto' between the Croatia and the Spanish, with both being content to play out a 2-2 draw, a scenario which saw the Italians eliminated in EURO 2004.
In the event, a solitary goal from Jesus Navas saw Spain to victory and threw Italy a lifeline, one which they have seized by advancing to the final with a win on penalties over England in the last eight before defeating Germany 2-1 in the semi-finals last night.
Del Bosque says Spain's 1-1 draw against Italy in their Group C opener in Gdansk three weeks ago was their toughest test of the tournament so far, but he told Radio Marca: "Never have we regretted not drawing with Croatia to eliminate Italy. This wasn't good for sport. Italy and ourselves have lived parallel lives and now we have to be at the level that a final demands.
"They are a team with a lot of experience and are based around Andrea Pirlo and Danielle De Rossi in the centre of the field. Their axis is the connection between Pirlo and Mario Balotelli. In the game in the group stages they were possibly superior in the first half. They were the team that gave us most problems."
Despite going for an unprecedented third major championship in a row, Del Bosque does not believe his side should be viewed as favourites for the final. "Italy has won the World Cup four times so we cannot speak of favourites," he said. "It is a final and it is 50-50. That we played each other in the group stages doesn't condition the game at all. That day [Italy striker] Antonio Cassano said to my assistant Toni Grande, 'We will see if we meet in the final' and he we are."
The former Real Madrid boss also responded to the growing criticism of his side being boring to watch. Spain have now gone nine knockout games in tournaments without conceding a goal but, without the injured David Villa, have often played without a natural striker, meaning goalmouth action at both ends of the pitch has been at a premium.
"We have to accept everyone's opinion," said Del Bosque. "Some things we have done quite well, like our play in defence. We haven't always been able to play the aesthetic style that everyone wants, but in every moment we have had control of the games."