Maybe Group C was the Group of Death after all.
Spain and Italy, the two Euro 2012 finalists, emerged from the same group, each dispatching the two survivors from the fear-inspiring Group B, with Portugal and Germany falling by the wayside. Now, they play for the second time this tournament with a chance to claim European bragging rights ahead of the next World Cup qualifying cycle.
When Spain and Italy met in the opening game of the group stage, they played to a 1-1 draw, with Antonio Di Natale's goal at the hour mark quickly being offset by Cesc Fabregas. Both teams missed golden chances to steal three points, though. Fernando Torres was particularly wasteful for Spain, missing a couple of late chances, while Mario Balotelli appeared to have a clear path to shoot on goal before hesitating and allowing Sergio Ramos to catch him from behind and spoil the oportunity.
Both teams tangle again with Europe's biggest prize on the line and each going for a legacy-sealing win. For Spain, it's three consecutive major titles. For Italy, it's two major championships in six years. Either way, an epic final is in the offing.
Here's a closer look at the tale of the tape between Spain and Italy:
TALE OF THE TAPE: SPAIN VS. ITALY
ROAD TO THE FINAL
Finished first in Group C: Tied Italy 1-1; Beat Republic of Ireland 4-0; Beat Croatia 1-0
Defeated France in quarterfinals 2-0; Defeated Portugal in semifinals 0-0 (4-2 in penalties)
Finished second in Group C: Tied Spain 1-1; Tied Croatia 1-1; Beat Republic of Ireland 2-0
Defeated England in quarterfinals 0-0 (4-2 in penalties); Defeated Germany in semifinals 2-1
2010 FIFA World Cup, 2008 European championship
2006 FIFA World Cup
Xabi Alonso, 2 goals
Cesc Fabregas, 2 goals
Fernando Torres, 2 goals
Jesus Navas, 1 goal
David Silva, 1 goal
Mario Balotelli, 3 goals
Andrea Pirlo, 1 goal
Antonio Di Natale, 1 goal
Antonio Cassano, 1 goal
THREE KEY PLAYERS
Xavi – A surprisingly understated tournament for the Barcelona star could be redeemed with a top-notch final. Going up against the likes of Pirlo in the center will be one of the most fascinating individual battles of the game.
Andres Iniesta – He scored the game-winner against the Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup final and has a penchant for coming up when it matters the most for both club and country.
Fabregas – Vicente del Bosque's lack of trust in any of his strikers and inventiveness to play Fabregas as a "False No. 9" has placed a great deal of pressure on Fabregas to come through. He responded against Italy in the opener, and his clinching PK sent Portugal packing in the semifinals.
Balotelli – The wildcard of all wildcards showed what he's capable of in the semifinal against Germany and can claim the Golden Boot with another goal. Had his chances to burn Gerard Pique and Ramos in the opener and appears to be locked in with the trophy on the line.
Pirlo – Juventus' ageless playmaker has been pure class all tournament and is the fulcrum of Italy's attack. An influential final likely clinches the Golden Ball.
Federico Balzaretti - Cesare Prandelli shifted Balzaretti to right back to deal with the likes of Philipp Lahm against Germany, and the move paid off. With Iniesta and left back Jordi Alba roaming up and down his flank, whoever is manning that side will play a huge role in determining Spain's attacking fortunes. Should Balzaretti be passed over in favor of Ignazio Abate — who could be fit again for the final — or Christian Maggio, then the onus is on them to halt Spain's forays on that side.
Who do you think will win the Euro 2012 final? Which Balotelli do you think will show up? What do you think will be the difference in the final?
Share your thoughts below.