Euro: Italy defy expectations to lift spirits
KRAKOW, Poland (Reuters) - Italy's expectations heading into their Euro 2012 opener against Spain were about as high as diminutive frontman Antonio Di Natale but his goal and their all-round play in the 1-1 draw have lifted spirits.
Italian media were pleased with Sunday's performance in Gdansk after weeks of negative headlines ranging from match-fixing allegations to injuries to poor displays in warm-up games.
"Beautiful Italy, we want you like that," ran Monday's front page in Gazzetta dello Sport.
Down to earth coach Cesare Prandelli was not shouting from the rooftops but the fact he was annoyed that a possible win was prevented by Cesc Fabregas's quick equalizer spoke volumes.
Di Natale's opener on the hour came moments after he replaced the ineffective Mario Balotelli and the Udinese striker will now hope to stay in the side for the game against Croatia in Poznan on Thursday.
"It's my best goal with the national team," he told reporters after slotting home with aplomb following Andrea Pirlo's superb run and pass.
"I finally put the ghost to bed because it was me four years ago who missed one of the penalties against Spain."
That quarter-final exit at Euro 2008 after a 0-0 draw cost coach Roberto Donadoni his job.
Prandelli will not get carried away and the jubilation of some fans at matching the world and European champions for long spells may have been tempered slightly by Croatia's impressive 3-1 dismissal of Ireland in the other Group C game afterwards.
Thursday's encounter will be awkward, especially as Croatia play with two powerful strikers, unlike Spain who started with none.
It will be a difficult test for Italy's new formation with three in defense and Emanuele Giaccherini at left wing back having debuted against the Spanish.
Midfielder Daniele De Rossi started as a center half and found Spain's approach tricky to deal with.
"When we saw there was no striker in the Spain team we joked about it. Initially I was a bit worried because a forward gives you someone to mark," he said.
(Editing by Ken Ferris)
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