View Photo Gallery: David Silva, here challenging Italian defender Leonardo Bonucci, set the table for Spain’s equalizer.

When Cesc Fabregas converted the game-winning penalty in a Euro 2008 quarterfinal shootout with Italy, it sent Spain through to an eventual title and a dominant run atop the soccer world.

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.

Italian forward Antonio Di Natale played the role of super sub with this second-half goal past past Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas. (Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

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.


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