Spain’s game plan will revolve around blunting Italy’s Pirlo

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Spain goalkeeper Victor Valdes believes his side will need to pay special attention to Italy playmaker Andrea Pirlo tomorrow night when the reigning champions will look to start on a winning note.

Spain head into the tournament looking to become the first country to claim back-to-back European Championships and, with 19 members of their 2010 World Cup-winning squad in Poland and Ukraine, few would be surprised to see La Roja write another page in the history books.

They face a tricky start to the defence of their title though after being pitted against 2006 world champions Italy in their opening Group C match, and in veteran Pirlo, Valdes knows the Azzurri have someone who can make life difficult for the Spanish.

The Barcelona goalkeeper said of the 33-year-old Juventus man: “He’s the player that carries the Italian midfield.

“Everything goes through him. They have wingers that get forward a lot, they go on the attack. The strikers play quite deep, but they are always looking for that assist from Pirlo. We’ll have to keep an eye on him and how we can counter that type of play.”

Real Madrid defender Alvaro Arbeloa is another who has plenty of respect for Italy heading into this weekend’s game despite their opponents’ poor recent form.

Italy have lost their last three friendly matches without scoring a goal, going down 1-0 at home to Uruguay in November and also against the USA in February, before losing 3-0 at home to Russia eight days ago.

That loss came days after Italy’s proposed friendly against Luxembourg was cancelled following an earthquake in the northern part of the country.

It is therefore hard to judge how Italy – who have also had to contend with a match-fixing scandal – will perform tomorrow but Arbeloa is not underestimating the threat posed by a nation that has won the World Cup four times and claimed Euro glory in 1968.

Arbeloa said: “Italy can be struggling, perhaps not controlling the game, looking like they are not doing anything, but they are able to hold on, and then with one chance they can win the match.”