WARSAW (Reuters) - Holders Spain, starting without a striker, spluttered to get into gear in their Euro 2012 opener as a vibrant and well-organized Italy mixed resolute defense with moments of flair to earn a deserved 1-1 draw on Sunday.
Spain’s run of 14 straight wins in competitive matches came to a halt in a clash between the Group C heavyweights in the Polish city of Gdansk.
Midfielder Cesc Fabregas quickly quietened Italian celebrations following substitute Antonio Di Natale’s goal on the hour, hammering in a 64th minute equalizer but it failed to spark the European and world champions into life.
While coach Vicente del Bosque was left to answer questions about why he left Fernando Torres kicking his heels on the bench for three quarters of the game, he will hardly panic.
Spain did not get the start they wanted at the 2010 World Cup, losing 1-0 to Switzerland, before going on to win the trophy for the first time.
Del Bosque praised Italy’s performance but blamed the pitch for his side failing to purr.
“A pitch that is so dry does not do football or the spectators many favors,” Del Bosque told a news conference.
“If the pitch had been a bit quicker it would have been better for both teams and a better match.”
Italy, fielding a three-man defense well marshaled by Daniele De Rossi, who was switched from his usual midfield role, were good value for their opening point.
It comes as a huge boost to coach Cesare Prandelli after defeat in three successive friendlies before the tournament.
He will also take satisfaction from making what proved to be an astute substitution, Di Natale finishing clinically from Andrea Pirlo’s pass just minutes after replacing the ineffective Mario Balotelli.
Away from the pitch, minor trouble was reported in two Polish cities.
Fourteen fans were detained in the western city of Poznan on Saturday night after police broke up a fight in the main square. Ireland were playing Croatia in Poznan in Sunday’s late Group C game.
Two Russia fans appeared before a court in Wroclaw and were issued with a ban on taking part in mass events after they were detained before Russia’s match with the Czech Republic on Friday.
Russia’s football federation urged their fans in Poland to behave after some threw fireworks and displayed illicit banners during the Group A game.
UEFA opened disciplinary proceedings on Sunday against the German (DFB) and Portuguese (FPF) Football Associations following the Group B match a day earlier in Lviv which Germany won 1-0.
The governing body charged the DFB after German fans threw what appeared to be rolled up pieces of paper at Portuguese players on several occasions in the first half.
UEFA said Portugal faced proceedings for a “delayed kick-off to the second-half”.
Editing by Ken Ferris