Mario Balotelli thriving with Italy, says coach Cesare Prandelli

Mario Balotelli is flourishing at Euro 2012 because he is surrounded by "great champions", according to Italy coach Cesare Prandelli.

Striker Balotelli, 21, goes into Sunday's showdown with reigning champions Spain having scored three goals in as many games for the Azzurri.

"He's found a set-up where he can talk to great champions, who have won a lot of trophies," said Prandelli.

"We've asked him to do certain things and he's doing them."

Balotelli found the net in the 2-0 group win against the Republic of Ireland before the Manchester City player scored both goals as Italy overcame Germany 2-1 in the semi-final.

"There comes a time when you have to be brave enough to accept other people's advice because the result becomes paramount," added Prandelli.

"We have always felt he had great ability."

Balotelli needs one more goal to take the lead in the Golden Boot standings, knowing achieving that would take Italy a long way towards lifting the trophy.

Sunday's match will be Italy's ninth final at major tournaments, yet they have not won the European Championship since 1968.

Their preparations for the final with Spain were not helped by a 3am arrival in Kiev from their Krakow base on Saturday.

But Prandelli insists Italy will be ready for the world champions in the Olympic Stadium and believes the contest in the centre of midfield will be crucial.

Italy will field the in-form Andrea Pirlo, as well as the likes of Riccardo Montolivo and Daniel de Rossi, while Spain will call upon accomplished and experienced midfielders such as Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Xabi Alonso.

"I hope we can be positive and take the game to Spain," added Prandelli.

"Our first aim will be to shut down space and win the ball. Where we try to win the ball will depend on us and also how good Spain are.

"For us, it is important to remain focused on our target - close the space in the central midfield.

"Our central midfield has a lot of quality, we can cover a lot of ground and press in that area and we have a great player who can raise the level of the game and can get in the right position - and of course that is Andrea Pirlo."

Captain and veteran keeper Gianluigi Buffon will be looking to add to the World Cup winners medal he won with the Azzurri in 2006.

Buffon was the hero as Italy beat France 5-3 on penalties in Berlin six years ago after an absorbing 1-1 draw.

"Playing for the Italian national team means a lot to me," said Buffon, 34.

"I lost two great grandparents in the war, [singing the national anthem] shows what it means to me."

On the challenge facing Italy on Sunday, the Juventus player added that Spain had a "slight advantage" being the reigning world and European champions.

But he added: "Italy have been more of a surprise side in this tournament. Let's hope we can continue to be a surprise right until the end."

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