Continued from page 1

Spain is the top-scoring team at the Confederations Cup, although 10 of its 15 goals have come against a hapless Tahiti squad.

But facing Tahiti gave coach Vicente del Bosque a chance to distribute minutes, giving out-of-favor striker Fernando Torres a chance to play a competitive match for his country the first time in eight months.

A morale-boosting four-goal salvo against Tahiti was followed by Torres making an instant scoring impact after replacing Roberto Soldado in the 3-0 victory over Nigeria in the Group B finale on Sunday. Spain’s luxury of attacking options was underscored by left back Jordi Alba chipping in with the other two goals.

Just the preparation Spain needed for the semifinal Thursday against Italy, a rematch of the European Championship final from a year ago.

Few would bet against another Spanish success. Even another 4-0 rout, given Italy’s defensive deficiencies in Brazil. Italy scraped into the last four with its back four easily breached, the slender victories secured over Mexico and Japan before the 4-2 loss to Brazil.

And now Italy will play with a weakened strike force.

With Mario Balotelli out of Thursday’s semifinal with a strained left thigh, coach Cesare Prandelli is shorn of the explosive attacking figure who might have been able to unnerve Spain.

Having been entrusted with leading the strike force _ scoring twice and setting up another _ Balotelli will now have to watch from the sidelines as Stephan El Shaarawy, Sebastian Giovinco, Alessio Cerci and Alessandro Diamanti are considered.

Prandelli will be hoping Andrea Pirlo recovers from a muscle injury in time while defender Ignazio Abate has already been sent home after dislocating his right shoulder.

On top of that, the Italians appear to be the team most unsettled by the conditions in Brazil. The disorder that has gripped the streets has left the team cooped up in hotel rooms. And the heat and humidity during the Brazilian winter has also been an issue.

No complaints, however, coming from the Brazilian team. And should it lift the trophy Sunday it could help provide some unity in a nation where the pressure on the team is now eclipsed only by the demands from the protesters.


Rob Harris can be reached at