Juventus midfielder Andrea Pirlo has declared that Spain are the only team Italy cannot match, after the Azzurri were beaten in the final of Euro 2012 by Vicente del Bosque's side.
Cesare Prandelli's men were beaten 4-0 by La Roja on Sunday, while the two sides recorded a competitive 1-1 draw in the first game of Group C.
Pirlo stated that he is satisfied with Italy's campaign this summer, but admitted that his side are unable to cope with the Spanish approach to the game.
"Perhaps Spain are the only side we are not yet able to match in terms of circulation of the ball," Pirlo told Gazzetta dello Sport.
"This was a great tournament until the final, where we were not up to standard.
"My role in the tournament? I do not want to talk about that. When we lose, the entire team loses. There is no point in talking about this player or that player."
Giorgio Chiellini and Thiago Motta both picked up injuries during the final, with the Brazil-born midfielder's hamstring problem forcing the Nazionale to play the last half an hour with 10 men as Prandelli had already used all three substitutions.
"We were very unlucky in the final: a lot of physical problems, missed chances and had 30 minutes with 10 men.
"Those injuries are not unusual when you play so many matches in such a short amount of time, especially at the end of a long season."
The 33-year-old then spoke of his delight that Prandelli will remain at the helm of the Azzurri, who will now turn their attentions to the World Cup 2014 qualifiers.
"It is only fair that he continues," Pirlo added. "I am happy that he will stay. His work is there to see."
"We began without big expectations and we made Italy dream," said Italy coach Cesare Prandelli as he and his players received a hero's homecoming, despite their final defeat.
The day after losing the UEFA EURO 2012 final against Spain, the Azzurri returned home to a warm welcome, despite the disappointment at missing the chance to win their first contintental title for 44 years.
Before leaving for Rome, coach Cesare Prandelli held a press conference in Krakow. "We must be proud and satisfied for what we have done during this tournament," said the 54-year-old coach. "We've fashioned an innovative team, that always plays fair. Everybody have seen us and appreciated us. The final's outcome shouldn't discourage us – we don't have to move backwards.
"We have been brave enough to make changes in a country that we know to be old and in need of change. Our football follows that path. We began without big expectations and we made Italy dream," he added.
As soon as the Italian players landed in Rome, they were cheered by a few hundred airport workers determined to show their appreciation to an Azzurri squad that surpassed many people's expectations. There was a big ovation for Prandelli, with coach-lauding chants of "Great mister, thanks mister" echoing around, while the players were welcomed as winners.
That Spain's four-goal margin of victory in the final set a new EURO final record has hurt the Italian team, but they know the quality of their vanquishers and captain Gianluigi Buffon thinks they could not have done more. "We faced the best team of the competition and we weren't at peak fitness," he said. "We feel bitter about the final score, but we are aware we have had a great tournament."
The Azzurri had been invited to visit the Italian President, Giorgio Napolitano, on their return, and following their arrival at Fiumicino airport they headed for the Quirinale, where they were praised by the head of state. "As your coach said you have a long way to go. But you have achieved a great goal that everybody appreciates. I think I was able to capture the passion that motivates you," he told the team, referring to a letter he wrote to the Azzurri praising their team spirit and commitment ahead of the final.
Prandelli revealed his pride at being welcomed by the president and offered his UEFA EURO 2012 silver medal as gift. "Thanks for the invitation, it helped us to endure the defeat," he said. "We are proud to have represented the values that you mentioned in your emotional letter. Thank you very much."
Italy Football Federation (FIGC) president Giancarlo Abete echoed those sentiments as he offered his response to the team's efforts, expressing his gratitude at the invitation before declaring his contentment at the Azzurri's achievements: "We are satisfied because we have done our best and we honoured our country."
Cesare Prandelli insists Italy must ensure their run to the Euro 2012 final was no flash in the pan by pressing on with their development.
The Azzurri proved many of their doubters wrong by reaching Sunday's final, where despite losing 4-0 to Spain, they nonetheless earned plaudits for pursuing an attacking approach throughout the tournament.
But while Prandelli is pleased with the efforts of his players in Poland and Ukraine, he has warned that they must continue to progress and not make "one step forward and two steps back".
Speaking to reporters, Prandelli said: "We must be proud of this Italy squad and our ootball. You journalists cheering me on is the sign that you are are starting believe in our project.
"We are an old country and we need to develop. The result of the final must not change our mind about change, we must not make one step forward and two steps back.
“Maybe it will be difficult, but we have to play well and get results at the same time. We must manage the national team like a club."
I start giving you an appointment: Brazil 2014, even better ... I advance of 12 months with the Confederations Cup, then June 2013!
I want to be there and not to do.
I told her about a dream. Yesterday I touched, but the dream continues. This month we have grown as a team and in the knowledge of being a group. A group where everyone has made her and more. When everyone has found her space.
A group that has crowned a great captain that I'm not. But Cesare Prandelli. A master before a CT. Un uomo perbene before a breeder.
We can be proud of what has been done and I can only stare on his side yet again.
The real surprise in kiev was not raised by Casillas Cup, but the fact that we were we opponents of all samples.
Unreachable guys, still too far away the Spaniards ... watching them in the eye and know that for the moment there is. ...
But I stayed calm because conscious of having given everything I like anyone has dropped in the field as well as those who did not play a single minute.
We have seen bent from fatigue, in tears, with his neck a silver can not know defeat when you've given everything. For some "OWL" we had to exit at second-hand.
We arrived in Kiev only loads of beautiful thoughts. The most beautiful there turn to you fans, real prize this month exhausting. Your love, your love that you brought yesterday in the Italian squares.
I never wanted to see your disapointed and sad eyes.
There is brief, but do as I do. You are farsighted, you go beyond. This wave has swept away. The next will be perfect, as in "Dolphin" ....
A final thank you goes out to my companions, was an honour for me to be able to play along with a similar group, a group of boys, a group that knows the value of representing our Italy!
Thank you guys for what you have given me life, thank you for giving me the opportunity to be their captain ...
The Azzurri, who never quite reached the standard of performance set in their previous games against England and Germany, were put on the back-foot within the first 15 minutes of the game when Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas got in behind the Italian defence and pulled back to David Silva to head home from six yards out.
Things got even worse for Italy just before half-time when a defence splitting pass from Xavi found Jordi Alba's run, and he calmly slotted past Gianluigi Buffon for Spain's second of the game.
Late goals from Chelsea duo Fernando Torres and Juan Mata confirmed a rampant Spanish victory, and Prandelli believes that fatigue was a factor in his teams poor performance.
"We were not in the good condition, we had some players not fit and against Spain you have to be at your best to win" he told reporters.
"We were tired, we didn't play our football,"
Prandelli admitted that he thought winning the championship would have been a bridge too far, but insists he is already focusing about the future.
"I think this team did the best they could" he added.
"At the end of the match I said thanks to everyone for what they did in this tournament. Now we look to the future."
Fatigue and injuries took their toll on Italy in their final loss to Spain but Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Daniele De Rossi were proud in defeat.
Italy's defence had impressed in previous knockout ties against England and Germany but tiredness and muscle strains – Giorgio Chiellini went off in the first half and Thiago Motta in the second shortly after coming on to leave the Azzurri with ten men – told as Spain ran out 4-0 winners. Though beaten, Italy's players were unbowed as they reflected on their run and hopes for the future.
Gianluigi Buffon, Italy captain
It's ended badly because we faced a great team who deserved to win. Sometimes in life you need to be able to accept defeat and compliment opponents who were better. They have a lot of players who are accustomed to playing certain types of games, important games like the final of a European Championship. I think at the start we paid for this because we were not the same Italy as we have been. We have nothing to complain about. Spain were the better team and we congratulate them.
Daniele De Rossi, Italy midfielder
I think Spain are better than everybody: in ten games against them you will lose seven or eight. If you win or draw it means everything went for your side. In Gdansk [drawing 1-1 in the group stage] I think we could have beaten them and nobody could have said we did not deserve it. Tonight we did not manage to cause them any problems them.
We were up against a very strong side and were not 100%; we were very tired. Ahead of the game we were sure we could beat them but we never hurt them. Then the game was over after 60 minutes: you cannot give anything to a team like Spain, facing them a man down is really too much to ask. We could have avoided the last two goals but it would not have changed much.
Giorgio Chiellini, Italy defender
We're sorry because we hoped to win and end the tournament in another way. We were tired, very tired, and the injuries show that. Some of our players on the pitch could hardly walk. In the end we have to congratulate Spain. They deserved to win and tonight they proved to be better than us.
When Thiago Motta got injured we were down to ten men but they'd almost closed the game out in the first 60 minutes with their ball possession. Then in the last half-hour they exploded, thanks in part to having more players. Everyone's sad about the loss, but it can't erase a tournament in which we played well and we dreamt with millions of Italians. In my opinion that has to be the starting point for our future.
Leonardo Bonucci, Italy defender
It's hard, because we believed we could do it. If we had succeeded in bringing onto the pitch what has been our trademark here – our desire to pass the ball around and create openings – for sure we would have been here talking about another kind of result. But they deserved to win and we give them credit. Once again Spain have shown that they are one or two steps above anyone else.
I think that today in general we were unlucky in everything: from the goals we conceded to the players we lost to injury. It was just a negative night. We'll take away the experience we've gained in this tournament, which has been positive, because we had the desire to play football. From here we need to start again.
Azzurri lost the final match of Euro 2012 0-4 to Spain...
Italy played their worst game of tournament in worst moments. After suffering injuries and and a heavy fatigue after 2 difficult matches against England & Germany, Italy completely outplayed by La Roja.
After first whistle of the game Spain played much better football and controlled the match very well until the end. Italy find some half chances but none of them really were dangerous to open Casillas goal.
It's so hard after losing a match by this result, but we have to accept that Spain were really better - in final - and Italy must hold their heads up after playing very good games in previous matches.
Special thanks for every Italy players and coaches to give us cheers and happiness and give back us the proud to be a Italy fan...
Spain (4-3-3): Casillas; Arbeloa, Ramos, Pique, Jordi Alba; Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Busquets; Iniesta, Fabregas, Silva
Subs: Valdes, Reina, Albiol, Javi Martinez, Juanfran, Cazorla, Jesus Navas, Pedro, Torres, Negredo, Mata, Llorente
Italy (4-3-1-2): Buffon; Abate, Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; De Rossi, Pirlo, Marchisio; Montolivo; Cassano, Balotelli
Subs: Sirigu, De Sanctis, Ogbonna, Balzaretti, Thiago Motta, Giaccherini, Giovinco, Nocerino, Di Natale, Borini, Diamanti
Gianluigi Buffon sat down with UEFA.com to discuss Sunday's final, Mario Balotelli, Andrea Pirlo's "extraordinary" season and potentially making history at the age of 34.
The word 'leader' is often overused but not when applied to Gianluigi Buffon. The 34-year-old hopes to emulate another Azzurri goalkeeping legend, Dino Zoff, the only Italian to win the UEFA European Championship and FIFA World Cup, by leading his team to a final victory against holders Spain in Kyiv. Buffon sat down with UEFA.com in the Ukrainian capital to discuss tonight's decider, Mario Balotelli and Andrea Pirlo's "extraordinary" season.
UEFA.com: How proud are you of your team, and being the captain and leader of the team, after those fantastic performances against England and Germany?
Gianluigi Buffon: Well we are very pleased because they're unexpected results. We came here with lots of non-football related problems, and also the friendlies we played during our preparation went pretty badly. So that's why we were a bit afraid of playing a bad tournament. But along with the coach we managed to find the right atmosphere within the team, so we could make it here.
UEFA.com: You said that you have been happy to see all those packed squares back home with lots of people viewing in public and watching your games. Are you happy to have restored the national pride in the team?
Buffon: Yes, very content and very happy. It's the greatest joy that we could have given to our people. It's a joy that they also transmit to us because some pictures and images don't leave you unmoved, of course, and they make you feel very proud inside.
UEFA.com: Cesare Prandelli has played a big part in that, encouraging the team to play attractive football. How important is he as your coach?
Buffon: He has been doing great. His way of working, his way of coaching, has been rewarded because he is more a club coach who teaches football on a daily basis and not really a national team coach. He managed to get his ideas across in a very efficient way, and in a very fast way, making sure that we took it in on those few occasions we met and saw him.
UEFA.com: He was also patient with Mario Balotelli, who wasn't scoring initially. What kind of person is he and what does he bring to the team?
Buffon: Mario is a very special one. He's an individual person, and in some aspects very original. As I have always said, he acts instinctively and he is also still very young. So I think we can excuse some of the mistakes he has made. I think he has the qualities to become a great champion, but it's all down to him alone to decide to take that road. Here in the match against Germany he scored two fantastic goals, and if we manage to finish this tournament successfully he certainly deserves a lot of credit. I also think the coach deserves the greatest credit for the way he managed to deal with him – and also the other 21 or 22 players in the squad.
UEFA.com: What's so special about the Italy defence?
Buffon: I have to say that defensively we have been doing very well. And for all teams, be they national teams or club teams, victories start from a great defence. We will now face Spain, who also have a great defence and haven't conceded many goals. So it will be very important for us to not to allow them to create many chances, and possibly not to concede a goal.
UEFA.com: The game will also depend on the performances of Andrea Pirlo, your Juventus team-mate, and Xavi Hernández, two exceptional players ...
Buffon: They are two incredible champions and it wouldn't be right from my side to say who is the stronger, because that would mean having no respect for one of those great champions. But yes, Andrea has managed to do something extraordinary and crazy this season, which not many others could have done.
UEFA.com: You have already played Spain in the group stage. How different is this game?
Buffon: I don't know if it's going to be different; it could be similar. Let's say that if there was one team that I would have liked to avoid in the final it is Spain. Unfortunately they are the strongest team and it was almost inevitable that if you wanted to get to the final you would have to play against Spain.
UEFA.com: What would it mean for you and for your country to win the European Championship for the first time since 1968?
Buffon: It would mean a lot for me, to add a European Championship to a World Cup would be something really prestigious. I would achieve it at the age of 34, even after some serious injuries, and by playing an important part. To be able to play and be decisive aged 34 is something that has not been done by many people. For the country it would be a great joy, an incomparable joy. It would be the greatest present that we could give them. Their joy, their enthusiasm and their flag waving would the greatest present they could give us.
With national pride in the Italy football team restored, Cesare Prandelli is looking for one more big performance from his evolving side as he looks ahead to tonight's final with UEFA.com.
From day one after being appointed Italy coach, Cesare Prandelli had one mission: earn back the love of the Azzurri fans which cooled after a disappointing FIFA World Cup in South Africa. He wanted to do so by playing positive football and never hiding, holding up tonight's UEFA EURO 2012 final opponents Spain as an example. Regardless of the result in Kyiv, the 54-year-old Italy coach has achieved one objective, the next is to add gloss by lifting the trophy, as he explains below.
UEFA.com: How proud are you of this final, especially after the great performance against Germany?
Cesare Prandelli: I am very proud, because game after game these guys have always looked to play good football, and for a manager that is the main objective. We have managed to give this team a way of playing good football. We have trained hard and with a quality midfield we've improved game after game.
UEFA.com: Since you started as a manager you've insisted on playing good football and being positive. Do you think you have revolutionised this team since you took over?
Prandelli: I don't think I have revolutionised the team. I analysed the characteristics of the players that were available to me, I made some choices, and I am convinced that we have quality players. If you have these kind of players I think you must try to play good football, even though sometimes it's difficult to achieve it because it's demanding. We have great quality players and we have the opportunity to build our play from the goalkeeper.
UEFA.com: Even when the team was not scoring you were patient with Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli. What is so special about them that now they have starting scoring together?
Prandelli: With all strikers, when they start scoring and finishing they start to build confidence and have more initiative. I have always believed in their qualities.
UEFA.com: You have already played against Spain in this tournament. Are you expecting a different kind of game this time? On that occasion you had to make changes during the course of the game ...
Prandelli: Yes, it's going to be a different kind of game. Then we were coming from a particular moment. Now we are playing against the best team in the world probably, because they have a continuity of performances, they have a philosophy of play and a work ethic. We have the desire to face them and to play this game, trying to risk something, but thinking that we can play our way.
UEFA.com: This team seems to have revived national pride in football, with all the city squares full of supporters. You must be happy about that?
Prandelli: That gives me great satisfaction because we wanted to get closer to the people. With the performances that we gave and the generosity we played with, and with a team that never gives up, we've managed to rebuild the enthusiasm around the team.
UEFA.com: What would it mean for you, for the players and for the country to win your first UEFA European Championship since 1968?
Prandelli: At this moment I cannot think about that. I need to stay focused on what we need to do in order to see that dream come true.