THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

The Azzurri haven’t beaten La Roja in a competitive match since USA 94

27 June ~ Spain, again. The Azzurri beat La Roja for the last time in a competitive match at the World Cup in the US in 1994. The two Baggios (Dino and Roberto) scored the goals, but after that Italy lost to Spain in the Euro 2008 quarter-finals on penalties, 4-0 in the Euro 2012 final, and on penalties again at the semi-finals of the 2013 Confederations Cup. The last victory was in a friendly in Bari five years ago.

When Ivan Perisic scored the winning goal for Croatia at the end of the match with Spain, the confidence which had been growing in the Italian headquarters after the first success of this Euro with Belgium suddenly took a hit. In fact, a lot of Italian pundits think that Spain in the round of 16 is not so bad. This is the opinion of Marco Tardelli, former World Cup winner with the Azzurri in 1982 and assistant manager to Giovanni Trapattoni at Republic of Ireland: “Probably, Spain is the best opponent now for us. The Spanish team is not that of the last Euro, they have many problems, especially defensively.”

Not all the pundits and the fans are as confident as Tardelli, especially because after playing very well in the first match in Lyon against Belgium, looking more “a club than a national team” as many journalists underlined after the match, the Azzurri looked poor and too defensive against Sweden in Toulouse. Furthemore, after winning the first two matches and making certain of topping the group, Antonio Conte rested a lot of players against Ireland and the team went on to be dominated.

The match against Spain is very easy to portray: La Roja will keep the ball most of the time thanks to the finesse of players such as Andrés Iniesta and Cesc Fàbregas, and will try to regain the ball as soon as possible when it’s lost. Italy, meanwhile, will defend deeply and try to counter attack. Against Belgium, Italy were perfect in this plan: Leonardo Bonucci was more a midfielder than a centre-back that day, Emanuele Giaccherini was perfect to play as a “total footballer”, Graziano Pelle and Eder very good as attackers, but also helpful in supporting the midfielders.

Conte will play his usual 3-5-2, but without Antonio Candreva, who didn’t recover from an injury against Sweden in the second match. Alessandro Florenzi is the best candidate to take the role of the Lazio midfielder. But to take on a team as strong as Spain, with a centre-forward like Álvaro Morata who knows all about his former team-mates at Juventus, the key for the Azzurri will be again the fantastic defensive line represented by Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Bonucci (all from Juve and nicknamed “The Wall”, or “Inglourious Basterds” by the French magazine So Foot). So Italy have the odds against them in Saint-Denis, a few months before another clash with the same opponents in the World Cup qualifiers next October. Spain, again. Luca Ferrato

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