• 'Winner of this game will be real, well-deserved champion'
• Cesc Fábregas says Mario Balotelli proved he is 'crack' striker
He was the star of the semi-final shootout but Sergio Ramos says he does not want penalties at the end of the Euro 2012 final and has warned Spain they will have to stop the "unique" Andrea Pirlo. Cesc Fábregas, the man who scored the fifth and decisive penalty against Portugal, described Pirlo as "special" and called Mario Balotelli a "crack" – a superstar.
Spain faced Italy in their first game, with Antonio Di Natale's strike in a 1-1 draw the only goal they have conceded in the tournament, while Pirlo was the man who provided the assist. Asked if he fancied penalties again after he emulated Pirlo in dinking his spot kick into the net, Ramos smiled and said: "Quite honestly, no. I don't fancy penalties. I want to win but to do that we have to go about things the right way.
"It could be beneficial for us to have already played them but they may change strategy. They are very quick and dangerous on the break and Pirlo is unique. With a single pass he can open you up and leave a man one on one. He's the player that makes the difference. We know Italy are a great opponent, quick and good in possession."
"Pirlo is their reference point. He dominates the game and controls the match. In that sense it's similar to the way that Xavi [Hernández] controls the game. But it would be a mistake not to evaluate the rest of the other players.
"This is a different type of team to the two we faced in the last finals [Germany in 2008 and Holland in 2010]. They have players who dominated Italy during the whole season for Juventus, Milan and Inter. [Mario] They have a lot of variety. Balotelli is strong, [Antonio] Cassano is tricky and there are special players like Pirlo and [Claudio] Marchisio. The winner of this game will be a real, well-deserved champion because we have been the most consistent two teams in the tournament."
Fábregas said he watched the game on Thursday night with no preference for who the opponents would be in Kiev on Sunday; but his admiration was clear. "I don't think we would have preferred anyone in particular. Whoever it had to be, it had to be. In this case it is Italy," he said. "They are a great side and we watched the game last night. They played a great game in the first half. It was very tough in the opening game. We will have to try to deactivate their main offensive threat – the two strikers and Pirlo.
"Balotelli is a great player. Yesterday he showed that, with those two fantastic moments – a proper striker's goals. The second was brilliant, right in the top corner. He is a threat, just as Cassano is. We will have to try to stop him. When it really mattered, in a semi-final against Germany he got two great goals. That's the performance of a 'crack'."