EURO 2012 LIVE: Spain 1 Italy 0

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1915: In an era when many sports struggle to maintain ratings, U.S. viewership of international football is increasing at a startling rate. The two Euro 2012 semifinals averaged 1.91 million viewers, a 46 percent increase from 1.31 million four years ago. With both semis starting at 2:45 p.m. EDT, Spain’s penalty kicks victory over Portugal was seen by 1.95 million on Wednesday, and Italy’s 2-0 upset win over Germany was viewed by 1.85 million the following day. ESPN said the semis averaged 576,000 additional viewers on computers, smart phones, tablets and Xbox. The first 31 matches averaged 1.2 million viewers on ESPN’s networks, up 61 percent from 2008.

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1900:

jongreenlee (via Twitter): Today history will be made. Spain will win their first meaningful match with Italy in a century. Possesion will win.

cpes100 (via Twitter): Which Balotelli turns up today will influence the result. I go Spain 2 Italy 1 in normal time.

izzy15mercado (via Twitter): The Spanish D will be all over Balotelli making sure he’s very uncomfortable on the pitch. Spain 1 Italy 0.

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1645: Five hours until kickoff at the Olympic Stadium _ and the outcome is so hard to predict. Can Italy’s Andrea Pirlo continue to shine even in the company of Spain’s Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Xabi Alonso? Will it be showman Mario Balotelli’s night? Or another headline-grabbing night for Cesc Fabregas whose penalty got Spain into the final and also won the 2008 European Championship final? Of course it could come down to nerve-wracking penalties _ with two of the world’s very best goalkeepers, Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon, emerging the hero.

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1630: Will Spain throw off the shackles and attack more tonight? They beat Portugal on penalties in the semifinals after a 0-0 draw. Their 2-0 victory over France in the quarterfinals included a penalty and a 1-0 win over Croatia in the final group match needed an 88th minute winner from Jesus Navas. That’s just two goals from open play in 300 minutes of football. The coach has mostly opted for starting lineups without a recognized striker, hoping one of the midfielders will ghost into attacking positions and score. That’s risky _ especially gainst Italy which over the years has traditionally been a hard team to break down.

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1615: Among tonight’s guests could be Belarus’ authoritarian president Aleksander Lukashenko. EU leaders are boycotting Sunday’s match over the jailing of former Ukraine premier Yulia Tymoshenko.

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1600: So far, 72 goals have been scored and here are AP’s John Leicester top five contenders. Still time, though, for another entry or two tonight. Want your say? Contact us via Twitter:

DANNY WELBECK vs. Sweden: Brilliant for its cunning and exquisite timing.

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