KIEV, Ukraine (AP) – Most football fans would agree that Spain is the favorite for Sunday night's European Championship final against Italy.
The Spanish won the Euro 2008 title four years ago in Vienna, and followed that up with their first World Cup victory two years ago in Johannesburg. But regardless of what they have won, it's how they have won, entertaining neutral fans with the way they play, their passing, their style and their charisma.
Now, everyone is waiting to see is if those characteristics are enough to win a third straight major title at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev.
''I don't think we're favorites for this final,'' said Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas, the team's captain and probably its most vocal player on the field. ''Quite the opposite. It's wide open.''
Humble words indeed from a player who surely believes the 10 men standing in front of him day after day and match after match are among the best ever assembled.
Still, though, even Casillas can see that times are changing, that his friends and teammates are aging.
''It's all different now, and still there is a lot of hope to keep going,'' Casillas said. ''We're going to work hard to defend the title we won four years ago.''
To do that, the Spanish will likely have to play better than they have all tournament. From the opening 1-1 draw against Italy to the penalty shootout victory over Portugal in the semifinals, Spain has showed its quality but often lacked the finishing needed to put away opponents.
That's where Italy comes in. The Italians have also employed a controlled passing game, led my midfield master Andrea Pirlo, to get to the final. And while they haven't set the tournament ablaze with goals, the Italians played brilliantly against Germany in the semifinals and watched as striker Mario Balotelli broke through with two goals - both with superb finishes.
Now it's time to face Spain, again.
''They're also human,'' Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini said, ''and we can beat them.''
The key to winning Sunday's match will likely be ball control. Both teams rely on possession to dictate the pace of the game. And both teams are good at it.
Many would argue that the Spanish have the advantage when it comes to controlling the ball. Spain has completed 3,417 passes at Euro 2012, while their five opponents have a combined 1,530 against them.
But Italy, in that opening draw, managed 341 passes against Spain, and may even have a passing-game advantage on Sunday. While Spain rarely uses the long ball, Italy has shown it can - and to great effect in the case of Balotelli's second goal against Germany.
Now it's time for the rematch of the Group C game, and it should be even more entertaining.