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Spain braces for Balotelli
AP, June 29th, 2012 3:46PM

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Spain has posted nine straight shutouts in knockout games of major competitions, a record that will be sorely tested when it plays Italy Sunday in the European Championship final. The Mediterranean rivals meet for a second time after starting Euro 2012 with a 1-1 draw. Spain hasn't conceded a goal since then and has reached the final with the fewest allowed since West Germany won the tournament 40 years ago.

In knockout games it hasn't conceded a goal since losing to France, 3-1, in the 2006 World Cup round of 16.

Of Italy, for which striker Mario Balotelli scored twice in the 2-1 victory over Germany in the semifinals, defender Sergio Ramos said, "They are where they are today because of the way they've played. They really took the game to us, led by two strikers as they looked to hit us on the counter. We can't start worrying about them, we have to stay calm and stick to our philosophy of play.''

One advantage for Spain is Ramos and Gerard Pique have gelled as centeral defenders after struggling in their first competitive pairing, which came against Italy. Ramos is playing in the middle rather than on the outside as cover for the injured Carles Puyol.

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