GDANSK, Poland (AP) – Overlooked at the 2010 World Cup, David Silva is hoping to play a key part in helping Spain defend its European Championship title.
The world champions face Italy in Group C on Sunday. Silva started five of six matches when Spain won Euro 2008 in Vienna.
But after starting in a 1-0 loss to Switzerland in South Africa, coach Vicente del Bosque left the playmaker out of the lineup, limiting him to a single substitute appearance as Spain won its first world title.
Things have changed since.
Silva is coming off a career-best season at Manchester City, where he helped the English club wins its first championship in 44 years. He was also a regular as Spain won all its qualifiers for Euro 2012, and now looks set to help lead the world's top midfield alongside Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez.
With Ireland playing Croatia in Poznan, a victory here could go a long way to deciding the Group C winner.
''We're motivated to win a third straight major championship, to make history,'' Silva said. ''But we know it will be very complicated and very difficult because every team can make it difficult for you.''
Italy certainly fits the bill of spoiler. The Azzurri were eliminated on penalties by Spain in the Euro 2008 quarterfinals, but haven't lost in normal time to their Mediterranean neighbors for 92 years.
If the Spanish can finally beat Italy without the need for spot kicks for the first time since the 1920 Olympics, it would be a record 15th straight competitive win, which have all come after the Switzerland loss.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli leads a team overshadowed by a domestic match-fixing scandal to the PGE Arena Stadium in Gdansk.
''The positive aspect is that you go in without any preconception. It's the first match, so you've got a lot of focus,'' Prandelli responded, when asked to weigh up the positives and negatives of Italy's opponent. ''The negative aspect is that it's Spain.''
Prandelli is banking on a strong midfield and is considering switching from a four-man defense to a three-man backline. The 3-5-2 formation would attempt to contain Spain's midfield, which is complemented by Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets. Spain can also introduce Cesc Fabregas, Juan Mata, Santi Cazorla and Jesus Navas at any time.
''I don't think one player is enough to stop players like Silva, like Xavi, like all the strong Spain players. You need a collective effort in every area of the pitch,'' Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini said.
Spain's players have often pointed to that quarterfinal penalty shootout win over Italy in Vienna as the turning point after years of underachievement. Now Spain is favorite to win a record-equaling third title.
''That was the match that changed our country's mentality,'' said defender Gerard Pique, who will be playing in his first European Championship. ''Before that match, Spain only played not to lose. Now we play to win.''
Fernando Torres looks to have edged Fernando Llorente and Alvaro Negredo for a starting role, but the Chelsea striker will have much to prove after only just recovering from poor form over recent years.
Italy's attack is led by Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano while Spain's defense - without veteran leader Carles Puyol - is still strong with Sergio Ramos moving into the center to partner Pique, while Alvaro Arbeloa and newcomer Jordi Alba start at fullback.
''Players like Balotelli can win a game for you, but players such as (Andrea) Pirlo win you championships,'' Pique said. ''We need to be well-prepared and keep on top of them.''
AP Sports Writer Andrew Dampf contributed to this report.
Paul Logothetis can be reached at: www.twitter.com/PaulLogoAP