Cesc Fàbregas. FOTO: CARMELO RUBIO-RFEF.

Vicente Del Bosque included five FC Barcelona players in his first eleven in the opening game of their European Championship campaign in Poland and Ukraine. Pedro was the only outfield Barça player that watched the match from the bench after the Spanish manager surprisingly opted for a 4-3-3 formation with no out-and-out strikers against an Italian side that had only conceded two goals in qualifying. Xavi and Sergio Busquets were joined by Xabi Alonso in the defensive midfield, with Cesc and Iniesta, along with David Silva, playing in more advanced positions. The other FCB representative, Gerard Piqué, played alongside Sergio Ramos in what, with Puyol injured, is likely to be Del Bosque’s partnership in central defence for the entire tournament.

Iniesta stuns in Gdansk

The lack of a target man didn’t appear to have been the wisest of choices, for although Spain dominated the possession, clear chances were hard to come by and they didn’t manage one shot on target in the first forty five minutes. Instead, it was the Italians that came closest to scoring, with a Cassano effort skimming wide of the post, and Casillas producing a wonderful save to deny former Barça man Thiago Motta a headed goal on the edge of half time.

The world champions looked considerably more decisive after the break, with Iniesta dazzling more than anybody with his classy distribution of the ball, impressive solo runs and a series of long range attempts on goal. It was a foregone conclusion that the Barça star would be named UEFA man of the match after one of his most outstanding performances ever in the national jersey.

Cesc grabs equaliser

But just when it looked like Spain finally had the game under their control, Di Natale, seconds after coming on as substitute, converted a piercing through ball from Pirlo to put the Italians in the lead after exactly an hour’s play. Spain were quick to respond to the setback. Three minutes after the restart, in a move started by the omnipresent Iniesta, Silva supplied a wonderful assist to Cesc Fàbregas, and the Barça man made no mistake as he threaded the ball past Italian keeper Buffon.

What until then had been a relatively static match ended with an explosive last half hour, with chances falling to both sides. But it was the Spanish that showed the most ambition, and looked particularly dangerous after Del Bosque finally sent on a striker, Fernando Torres, which generated space among the compact Italian defence.

However, there was no further scoring and with the spoils shared in their opening fixture, Spanish attention now turns to Ireland on June 14.