The defeat began Italy’s downward spiral following its 2006 World Cup title and the Azzurri have yet to recover.
But after Sunday’s 1-1 draw in the Group C opener in Gdansk, Poland, it appears the perceived gulf between Spain and Italy has shrunk considerably.
Three minutes after he sprinted onto the pitch as a second-half substitute, Antonio Di Natale ran onto a vintage Andrea Pirlo through ball and pushed it past a charging Iker Casillas to put Italy out in front.
But with David Silva’s replacement waiting on the sideline, the Manchester City striker flicked a brilliant left-footed ball into the box to a breaking Fabregas who tucked it into the net to level the score.
In the 74th minute ever-present Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon stripped Spain sub Fernando Torres of the ball to prevent a prime scoring opportunity. Torres sailed another chance high over the crossbar as questions continue to mount about his struggles to put the ball in the back of the net.
Italy’s best early chance came when mercurial striker Mario Balotelli found himself all alone with the ball in the box in the 53rd minute, but his indecision cost him as Sergio Ramos charged back into the play to break it up. Balotelli, who showed flashes of both his sublime skill and short fuse, was subbed out moments later for Di Natale.
The two favorites to advance out of the group should be content with a point, but Spain coach Vincente del Bosque will no doubt face pressure to add more firepower to his starting 11 when the Spaniards face Ireland on Thursday.