Spain came from behind to begin the defense of their European title with a 1-1 draw against an impressive Italy side in Gdansk.

The Italians took a deserved lead early in the second half through substitute Antonio Di Natale, before Spain hit back almost immediately through a typically-intricate goal, scored by Cesc Fabregas.

Both sides began with interesting tactical lineups. Spain coach Vicente del Bosque elected to go without a recognized striker as he put faith in the tricky trio of Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas and David Silva to provide the penetration.

As expected, Cesare Prandelli also threw a spanner into the works by starting with a 3-5-2 formation with midfielder Daniele De Rossi at the back.

And it was the Italians system that ahd them on top in the early going. The Azzurri engaging Spain high up the pitch and putting in plenty of early tackles before getting men back in numbers when their opponents progressed toward the edge of the box.

While largely negating the Spanish threat, Italy also showed no little enterprise going forward. With Andrea Pirlo conducting proceedings from a deep-lying midfield role, those ahead of him caused Spain ample problems with some excellent movement.

No-one more so than Antonio Cassano. The Milan frontman, who only just recovered from a stroke in time for this tournament, was undoubtedly the star performer of the opening 45 minutes. Finding space peeling off to the left, Cassano came close to breaking the deadlock as his low shot was blocked by Iker Casillas. It was the same formula just two minutes later as the charismatic 29-year-old this time chipped the ball back to the edge of the box to find Claudio Marchisio, whose well-struck volley was just too close to Casillas.

Cassano had no little luck moving to the right, either. Just before the break he produced a delightful cross to the near post that Thiago Motta met with a powerful header that Casillas dove to his right to turn away.

Without anyone to run in behind, Spain were largely playing into the Italians' hands. Andres Iniesta the one man showing the propensity to get at the opposition's backline. It was no surprise that it was he who came closest to putting Spain in front in the first period. Played through by his Barcelona teammate, Xavi, Iniesta struck a volley just too high and over Buffon's bar.

Likely inspired by their coach's urgings at the break, Spain began the second-half on the front foot, with an increased tempo to their game.

And they almost went in front, with Iniesta again to the fore. Breaking clear into the area down the left, from a difficult angle, Iniesta fired a left-foot shot across goal that Buffon got mere fingertips too.

But Italy stood up to the challenge and almost got in front themselves moments later.

Mario Balotelli nicked the ball off Sergio Ramos down the right and burst clear into the box, but dawdling between shooting or playing it square for Cassano, he took far too long and allowed Ramos to get back and make a challenge.

Following the missed chance, and already on a booking, Prandelli decided to replace Balotelli with veteran forward Antonio Di Natale.

And what a substitution it proved as Di Natale opened the scoring just five minutes after coming on. Pirlo breezed past Busquets before playing a trademark inch-perfect pass behind the defense to Di Natale, who opened up his body before hitting a first time shot past Casillas and into the back of the net.

But, with Italian fans still celebrating being a goal up on the World and European champions, Spain struck back almost immediately. David Silva wrong footed the Italian defense on the edge of the box with a wondrous pass with the outside of his left foot to find Fabregas clear through on goal, who smashed the ball home with his left-foot, giving Buffon no chance.

Despite getting back on level terms, Del Bosque followed through with his substitution as he introduced Jesus Navas to provide some width on the right side. And the move almost paid dividends as his cross to the back post was met by left-back Jordi Alba's volley that went wide of the near post.

It was another substitute who had Spain's best chance for a winner. Fernando Torres beat the Italian offside trap, but the Chelsea striker showed his lack of confidence in front of goal as Gianluigi Buffon made a clean challenge to win the ball.

It was a match in which the substitutes were having an increasing impact. Italy's two men off the bench combined as Sebastain Giovinco lofted a clever ball over the top to find Di Natale, but stretching for a difficult volley, the Udinese man put it wide.

But it was Spain who looked the greater threat as time began to tick away. And one can't help feeling that if they had had Fernando Torres circa 2008 in their ranks Spain would have had at least a second goal. Torres was played through twice more but first through a lack of conviction and on the second occasion through poor execution, Italy survived.

While Italy began to tire in the latter stages, they still created another opportunity of their own to grab a winner in the final five minutes. Marchisio playing a neat one-two with Motta on the edge of the area, but able only to direct his shot straight at Casillas.

After an consistently engaging 90 minutes, the match ended in a rightful 1-1 draw. Spain coach Del Bosque will still have some serious thinking to do over how to deal with the absence of David Villa up front. As for Italy, Prandelli will be massively encourage by how his experimental and enterprising side performed up against a most daunting challenge. the way they played here can only bode well for Italy potentially proving to be one of the surprise packages of Euro 2012.

SPAIN 1-1 ITALY Match highlights Euro2012 10.06... by vik2003