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Motta: Italy prepared to play ugly to beat Spain

The two football monoliths clash in their Euro 2012 Group C opener in Gdansk, Poland on Sunday with holders and tournament favourites Spain likely to dominate possession with their highly successful short-passing style.

To try to combat their imposing threat and outmuscle Spain's diminutive midfield, Italy look set to play a new system with three at the back and the middle of the park flooded with two wing-backs and three bullying players in the centre.

Brazil-born Thiago Motta, who spent time at the Barcelona school of tiki-taka passing with some of Spain's luminaries before moving to Serie A and now Paris Saint-Germain, has a good chance of playing in central midfield and is ready for battle.

"We hope to play nice football because we want to but in the end what matters is winning," the 29-year-old, more used to playing dainty little flicks than getting his foot in, told reporters on Thursday.

He was totally blunt when asked whether the famous catenaccio style of previous Italy teams, where stout defence and pursuit of a 1-0 victory prevailed, paled in comparison with Spain's vibrant play.

"The old Italy won," the former Inter Milan man barked.

The Spanish are without injured striker David Villa and defender Carles Puyol but Thiago Motta reckons the threat posed by midfielders Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso means they are still top class.


"I don't believe they are less strong," he said.

"They have had a good, good moment in the last four years, they have won everything. They have lost Villa and Puyol but are still playing at the same level.

"The most important thing is that we play as a team."

The thought of Italy players hunting in packs in a bid to steal the ball from the world champions will lead some Azzurri fans to wonder whether one of their number - livewire Mario Balotelli - will be able to avoid some risky ankle-clipping.

The striker has been in trouble with referees in the past for rash kicks when he challenges for the ball.

Balotelli has been up to his usual antics off the pitch, smacking Thiago Motta round the head during a team photo, but his friend hopes he can behave when it matters most.

"Even here he annoys me," the midfielder joked, remembering their time together at Inter. "Mario is a great lad. But he has to have the responsibility to play for the national team."