Euro 2020: Italy vs Spain semi-final preview

Unbeaten Italy, possession kings Spain meet at Wembley Stadium in London in the first semi-final.

Italy are unbeaten in their last 32 games [Justin Tallis/AFP]

When: Tuesday, July 6
Where: Wembley Stadium, London
Kick-off: 19:00 GMT

Italy vs Spain marks a blockbuster first semi-final at Euro 2020 to take place before an expected crowd of 60,000 at Wembley with Tuesday’s game the latest episode in a burgeoning rivalry between the nations meeting in a fourth consecutive European Championship.

Spain won on penalties in the quarter-finals in Vienna in 2008 on their way to winning the trophy and then thrashed Italy 4-0 in the final in Kyiv four years later.

Italy gained a measure of revenge by winning 2-0 in the last-16 at Euro 2016 and the Azzurri appear the favourites this time as they arrive at Wembley having knocked out Belgium in the quarter-finals to stretch their unbeaten run to a remarkable 32 games.

While Italy – whose only European Championship title came in 1968 – have been the standout team at the tournament so far, Spain have overcome a difficult start to reach the semi-finals as they target a record fourth continental crown.

Road to the semi-finals

Italy
Beat Turkey 3-0
Beat Switzerland 3-0
Beat Wales 1-0
Beat Austria 2-1 (after ET)
Beat Belgium 2-1

Spain
Drew 0-0 with Sweden
Drew 1-1 with Poland
Beat Slovakia 5-0
Beat Croatia 5-3 (after ET)
Beat Switzerland 3-1 (penalties)

Fixture laced with history

Spain’s cycle of dominance of European football began and ended with Italy so it is fitting their hopes of a reconquest will see them face Roberto Mancini’s side, who are on their own path towards redemption.

This is a fixture laced with history, not least for coach Luis Enrique, who was left with a broken nose by opponent Mauro Tassotti which went unpunished in a 1994 World Cup quarter-final defeat and to this day sparks feelings of injustice in Spain.

Mancini has got the country falling back in love with the national team by overseeing some sparkling football and creating a real sense of unity demonstrated in the way they have celebrated every victory as if they had won a trophy.

That sense of togetherness could be seen on the pitch as they defended like gladiators in their 2-1 win over Belgium in the quarter-finals and in their raucous tribute on the flight home to defender Leonardo Spinazzola, who tore his Achilles tendon and is out of the tournament.

Spain’s path to the semi-finals has been less smooth, getting off to a croaky start with dull draws against Sweden and Poland before coming to life with a 5-0 win over Slovakia and a 5-3 win against Croatia after extra time.

Their quarter-final success over Switzerland on penalties was far less exciting but had the hallmarks of the shoot-out win over Italy 13 years ago and showcased the team spirit players and Enrique have talked up throughout the tournament.

Enrique has coped with personal tragedy and the effect of negative public opinion to rally his young squad and lead them to the semi-finals.

He incurred the wrath of many fans and large sections of the Spanish media for leaving Sergio Ramos out of his squad and picking no players from Real Madrid.

The coach turned more heads by only picking a 24-man squad instead of 26 and for encouraging French-born defender Aymeric Laporte to switch nationalities and lead the team’s defence instead of Ramos.

More incredulity followed when he kept Sergio Busquets in the squad after the midfielder tested positive for COVID-19, showing a sense of patience he did not afford Ramos, who had missed much of the last season through injury.

Radio Marca described Luis Enrique as “pigheaded”, adding Spain were “not cut out to win this Euros and we all know it”.

Coaches’ corner

Luis Enrique (Spain)

“We are leaders in ball possession [in the tournament] but they can also make use of it and enjoy the ball, that’ll be the first battle we need to conquer. They can adapt to not having the ball, they’ve done that in the tournament in certain stages but they’re more comfortable with the ball and stronger with it.

“We’re not an experienced team but it doesn’t mean we don’t have experience of the game. Many of our players have played at a very high level and are used to these games. I just hope we’re up to the challenge.”

Roberto Mancini (Italy)

“We know it won’t be that easy. We know that we need to produce a big performance because Spain are a top side. We’re in the semi-finals of the European Championship. And so it’s it’s very unlikely to find easy opposition.

“If Italy and Spain have made it thus far, it means that we’ve done very well. If we’re into the semi-final, it means that we deserve to be at this stage of the competition. So I think it’s 50-50 with regards to who has the tag of favourites.”

What’s next for the winners?

The Euro 2020 final on July 11 at Wembley Stadium against either England or Denmark.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

Related

More from Sports
Most Read