Sunday’s Euro 2012 final between Spain and Italy in Kiev is a re-match of the side’s opening group game at the competition and extends an extraordinary trend.
Since 1988, every second Euro final has been contested by teams that played each other in their first group match of the tournament.
The Netherlands lost their opener 1-0 to the Soviet Union 24 years ago but beat them 2-0 in the decider. Eight years later, in 1996, Germany beat the Czech Republic in both games and so did Greece against then hosts Portugal in 2004.
Spain’s progress into the 2012 final had widely been expected, while Italy were not necessarily one of the pre-tournament favourites.
But the Azzurri showed what they were capable of in their first game, when they held the holders Spain to a 1-1 draw, and Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said he is taking nothing for granted.
“They have shown in this tournament that they are a formidable opponent. They will not be easy to beat,” the 61-year-old said.
The former international has surprised throughout the competition with his choice of forwards, first playing with Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas as the lone striker, then giving the role to Chelsea forward Fernando Torres.
In their penalty shoot-out victory against Portugal in the semifinals, del Bosque surprisingly started with Alvaro Negredo upfront.
His Italian counterpart Cesare Prandelli, who has called on divine help in his quest for a second continental title and famously walked -- accompanied by members of his technical team -- some 20 kilometres to a monastery after advancing to the quarterfinals and the semifinals, said that they were now hoping for more.
“When you dream, you always dream big. This is the beginning of the dream,” the 54-year-old said.
Prandelli took over the Italian side after their disappointing 2010 World Cup defeat and has moved them away from the defensive style of play which had characterized Italian football for decades.
“We’ve always tried to play football from the outset of the tournament, that’s our strength. We try to knock the ball round the midfield. I always wanted to propose this style,” he said.
Spain have officially never beaten Italy in their seven competitive games as their penalty shoot-out success in the Euro 2008 quarterfinals goes down as one of four draws (after 120 minutes) into the football records, and Italy winning the other three games.
All of Spain’s seven overall wins have come in friendlies, with 11 draws and eight Italian victories intheir 26 a-matches, the latest in a 2011 friendly. Spain also beat Italy in three of their six Olympic meetings.
The Euro 2008 success was the beginning of a remarkable run for Spain as they won Euro by beating Germany in the final and then lifted their first World Cup trophy in 2010 after getting the better of Netherlands.
In Sunday’s final in Kiev’s Olympic Stadium, Spain now has a chance to become the first team to repeat a Euro title and win three consecutive major titles.