Italy – Spain : 2-0
enter In the World Cup 2014, both Spain and Italy suffered the humiliation of being booted out of the tournament in the group stage. After their debacles, both nations took two very different ways to Euro 2016.
The Italian FA made a clear change of direction by throwing Cesare Prandelli out and by appoining Antonio Conte to take over Gli Azzurri. To that Italian national team – a team where you play with style, finesse and panache, without getting a hair out of place and preferably while looking as if you didn’t even bother – Conte declared a manifesto akin to swearing in the S:t Peter’s Basilica in Rome: everyone wearing the Italy shirt has to work hard, to every last man. Italians everywhere choked on their pasta. But now they can see it’s paying off.
The Spanish FA made a clear confirmation of faith in the tiki-taka philosophy that had served the Spaniards well by winning the three previous major tournaments for them, and confirmed manager Vicente Del Bosque to try to take their brand of football one step further so it would be unreachable again for other national teams. But now they can see that Spain continues to struggle against many teams they used to beat easily in their pomp.
So, the stage was set for an epic battle between a new, hard working Italy and a Spain trying to build a Tiki-Taka 2.0. Also, it was a rematch of the 2012 Euro final, where Italy suffered a crushing 4-0 defeau to Spain. The result means that Italy now has now taken full revenge for that evening four years ago, and their play is a redemption for their decision to renew the way the national team plays.
Conte’s new brand of football meant that the energetic 5-man midfield, led by De Rossi, shrunk the spaces for Spain’s creative players like Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta and David Silva and did not allow them to tiki-taka their way through, leaving only the option of more or less harmless long balls to Jordi Alba and Juanfran on the flanks, where the Spanish attacks petered out.
When they instead got the ball, Italy attacked with industrious amounts of running to make themselves available for passes with Emanuele Giaccherini Marco Parolo and Alessandro Florenzi ably assisting the two hard-working battering rams up front Graziano Pellé and Eder.
An unnecessary foul from Sergio Ramos just outside the area prompted the first goal just after half an hour: Eder blasts the ball at De Gea who spills the ball out to Giorgio Chiellini, who stabs the ball into the Spanish net: 1-0 to Italy.
Spain lined up a number of toothless attacks throughout the game and had a golden opportunity to equalize just minutes from full time with a Gerard Pique shot from 6 meters, but Gianluigi Buffon rolled back the years with a stunning dive down to palm out the ball. A few minutes later, Graziano Pellé got his just reward by setting the final result 2-0 to Italy.
Today, it is clear which of the two teams made the right decision after the 2014 World Cup, and the Italians are no longer choking on their pasta but throroughly enjoying their new, hard working national team.
Congratulations Italy, who now are to get ready a truly mouth-watering quarter final against Germany on Saturday evening.