Euro 2020: Spain look to stop Italy juggernaut in clash of titans

Italy has been on a record run of 15 consecutive wins in the European competition's whereas Spain has had a topsy-turvy tournament to reach the last-4.

Italian national teams training session ahead of their semi-final clash against Spain on Tuesday; Credit: Twitter/@azzurri

Euro 2012 finalists Spain and Italy face each other at Wembley in the Euro 2020 semi-final. Unlike the one sided final of 2012 when Spain won 4-1, this time around the Azzurri are in fine form. Spain, on the other hand, have had a topsy-turvy tournament so far. Italy have won all five games so far whereas Spain started with two draws and then registered three victories. Tuesday’s match is going to be 39th encounter between the two sides. So far, Italy have registered 11 victories whereas Spain have won 13 times. (Fixtures and results)

Italy got the better of Belgium 2-1 in the Euro 2020 quarter-finals courtesy of goals from Nicolo Barella and Lorenzo Insigne. Although Belgium pulled one pack through Romelu Lukaku, the Italian defence stood firm to deny them the equalizer. It was their record setting 15th consecutive win in the European competition- including the qualifiers and finals.

The 2006 world champions are on a run of 32 games unbeaten. Their last defeat was against Portugal in September 2018 when they were still recovering from the aftermath of failing to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. But since then the Azzurri have rejuvenated themselves under head coach Roberto Mancini.

Euro 2020 for both sides so far

Italy started the Euro 2020 with two consecutive 3-0 wins against Turkey and Switzerland. After that, they beat Wales 1-0 in the final group game. In the round of 16 they needed two extra time goals from Matteo Pessina and Federico Chiesa to get the better of Austria. Sasa Kalajdzic pulled one back for Austria to end Italy’s run of more than 1000 minutes without conceding a goal.

Spain started their campaign with two draws against Sweden and Poland. But they thrashed Slovakia 5-0 to book a place in the round of 16 as runners-up from Group E.

La Furia Roja then overcame Croatia after an eight goal thriller in the last-16. Alvaro Morata and Mikel Oyarzabal scored in the extra time after the game finished 3-3 in regular time.

In the quarter-finals the 2008 champions faced Switzerland, who defeated France in the round of 16. The match ended 1-1 in 120 minutes and Spain prevailed 3-1 winners in penalties. Goalkeeper Unai Simon denied Fabian Schar and Manuel Akanji from the spot before Mikel Oyarzabal sent them through to the semis.

No Spinazzola, but depth enough

Italy boss Roberto Mancini has built a team that has a perfect blend of experience and youth. The two centre defenders Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini have more than 100 international caps each. Meanwhile left-back Leonardo Spinazola suffered a tournament ending injury against Belgium. He will be sidelined for at least four months. The Roma wing-back’s marauding runs down the left-flank opened up space for Insigne to exploit. Emerson Palmieri is expected to come in at left back.

Rght-back Alessandro Florenzi has recovered from a muscle injury. That being said, it would be interesting to see whether he comes back into the starting eleven.

His deputy Giovanni De Lorenzo has been doing a fine job at that position. Jorginho has started every game so far and is sure to start as a defensive midfielder once again.

The Chelsea player provides the much needed cover to the defence as the wing-backs are quite attack minded.

Marco Verratti has given a solid performance in the three starts he got after recovering from a knee injury. He should keep his place in the midfield alongside last match’s goal scorer Barella.

The front three are going to be Ciro Immobile, Insigne and Chiesa. Chiesa started ahead of Domenico Berardi at the right side in the previous game and was quite effective.

An ageing Belgium defence found it difficult to handle the 23-year-old’s pace and trickery.

Mancini’s side are a well oiled machine and they possess great depth in the squad. The team doesn’t depend on individual performances and rather believes in collective effort. Thus, injuries will most likely not be a big issue for them.

Busquets key for Spain

On the other hand, Spain boss Luis Enrique also prefers a 4-3-3 formation with Aymeric Laporte and Pau Torres the two central defenders. Laporte has been the only Spanish player to have played every minute of the tournament so far, therefore the Manchester City defender trained separately in the gym the other day to manage fatigue.

Right-back Cesar Azpilicueta provides a bit more defensive stability in an attack-minded team. The left-back position is occupied by Jordi Alba, who plays a much more advanced role and his overlapping runs opens up space for Pedri and Sarabia to exploit. Meanwhile, Sarabia is unlikely to start on Tuesday as he suffered a muscular injury in the previous game therefore Dani Olmo is likely to replace him in the forward line alongside Alvaro Morata and Ferran Torres.

Spain’s success in the major tournaments(Euro2008, 2012 and 2010 World Cup) has been built on world class midfielder’s- the likes of Iniesta, Xavi, Marcos Senna etc. But this team lacks that kind of quality, Sergio Busquets is the only survivor from the 2010 World Cup winning team. The Barcelona midfielder missed the first two matches because of corona virus but since coming back he has bagged two consecutive man of the match awards and has literally turned the fortunes of Spain on his own. The 32-year-old’s ability to calmly control the pace of the game and deliver defense splitting passes has allowed fellow midfielders Koke and Pedri to play further up and excel.

Euro 2020 – how will teams play?

Spain likes to keep the ball and play a possession based game. Italy don’t waste too much time going forward once they have the ball. Both sides have similar strengths as they like to attack down the left flank with their left-backs who make lots of overlapping runs. However since Spinazzola is injured it will be interesting to see how his replacement Emerson will play in the left side.

Enrique’s side has become the first team to score 5 goals in two consecutive matches and they have already scored 12 goals in the competition so far. However they have also conceded five. Meanwhile Italy has scored 11 and conceded just 2 so far. Therefore the Azzurri has a better defensive solidity and that might be the deciding factor in the game. The likes of Bonucci and Chiellini handled Romelu Lukaku very well in the previous match therefore they should be able to hold the likes of Morata and Torres.

The Italians play a fluid attacking game without compromising on the defence.

Sportslumo Desk

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