By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
(AP) -- LONDON (SE) - Entering a tournament amid a scandal isn't new to Italy.
The same could be said about Spain being a heavy favourite.
Italy will try to remain focused on the field and overcome a rash of injuries, while reigning champions Spain are looking to get the European Championship off to a strong start in one of the most highly anticipated matches of the tournament Sunday in Gdansk, Poland.
The Italians are mired in another controversy, as a widespread match-fixing scandal has led to numerous arrests while also putting members of the current national team at the forefront of the investigation.
The Azzurri have already dismissed one player - defender Domenico Criscito - due to the scandal, while legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and defender Leonardo Bonucci are also reportedly under investigation.
The scandal, dubbed "Calcioscommesse," even led to Prime Minister Mario Monti to call for soccer to be suspended for two to three years.
"I don't like this game," manager Cesare Prandelli said. "We would have liked to come here with a different mood, but we've got great spirit and we won't be discouraged."
That hasn't been too difficult for Italy in the past, as the team won the 1982 and 2006 World Cups while dealing with scandals. The most recent success came amid "Calciopoli," a scandal that resulted in the relegation of Juventus - Buffon's club.
The scandal is just another distraction for an Italian team that has sputtered into Euro 2012, losing three friendlies in a row by a combined 5-0 score, including a 3-0 defeat to Russia on June 1 after a meeting with Luxembourg was cancelled due to an earthquake in Italy.
Now, Italy attempt a daunting task; getting a result against high-octane Spain, the reigning European and world champions and the team that eliminated the Italians on penalties four years ago.
"(Spain) plays great football but we shouldn't be afraid of anyone," midfielder Claudio Marchisio said.
Injuries are also an issue for Italy, as defender Andrea Barzagli may be lost for the tournament due to a calf injury suffered versus Russia, while fellow Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini is recovering from a groin injury. Star forward Mario Balotelli has hurt a thigh muscle but could play.
One of the few certainties is that Prandelli is expected to spring a surprise on Spain, and that could be a switch to a 3-5-2 formation that could move midfielder Daniele De Rossi to the back line.
While Italy appear to be scrambling ahead of the Group C opener, Spain are becoming accustomed to being the favourites again and cruised through qualifying by winning all eight games while outscoring opponents 26-6.
"We're conscious of the fact that it was inevitable on paper we'd be favourites. The key to our success has been to always start from zero and respect our opponents," defender Sergio Ramos said. "Humility has been the base from which we have grown in these recent years."
Part of that base also includes forward David Villa and defender Carles Puyol, who are both out of the Euro due to injuries. Villa's five goals at the World Cup two years ago were tied for the most at the tournament after he led Euro 2008 with four tallies.
Not having Villa's scoring presence and Puyol's leadership appeared to be a problem in a 1-0 win over China in Spain's final tune-up last week. The Spanish fell 1-0 to Switzerland without Puyol in the opener of the World Cup two years ago.
"No doubt they are two very important players who have been a vital part of Spain's recent titles," defender Javi Martinez said. "But we're lucky that we can count on players who can do as good a job or better so that we don't note those absences."
Spain's possession tactics will likely hinge on the play of superstar midfielders Xavi and Andres Iniesta, while a slew of potent forwards will be trying to fill the void left by Villa's absence.
Fernando Torres, who scored in a 1-0 win over Germany to win Euro 2008, is the most accomplished of the group with 28 goals in 92 games for the national team. He enters this tournament with the motivation to prove that he's still among the best forward's in the world after being considered a flop in his stint with England's Chelsea, getting seven goals in 46 matches.
Spain aren't expected to deviate from its offensive-minded tactics, and Italy feel they will need to be more than just prepared.
"We all know how Spain plays, but to understand that before the match is one thing, and then going out on the pitch and preventing them from playing like that is something else completely," said midfielder Thiago Motta, who also once played for Barcelona. "We've got to show from the start that we can win this match."
Updated June 8, 2012