A place in the finals of the UEFA Euro 2020 will be on the line when Italy square off against Spain in the first-semi-final at Wembley on Tuesday night.
48 matches, 24 teams and only four remain standing tall. The UEFA Euro 2020 campaign is in its final phase as we kick off the semi-finals this Tuesday night with a truly monumental clash. The iconic Wembley Stadium will provide the setting as two giants of Europe, Italy and Spain, battle it out for a place in the finals.
Italy have been showing why exactly they billed as one of the pre-tournament favourites at every step of the way. The Azzurri, putting behind their disappointment of not qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, have been near-unstoppable under Roberto Mancini, going on a mind-boggling 32-game unbeaten streak.
Italy cruised through the group stages of the European Championships, breezing past Turkey and Switzerland in their first two games before securing a narrow win over Wales. They were given a scare when Austria dragged them into extra-time in the Round of 16 stages, but the way they blew past the No. 1 ranked team, Belgium, in the quarter-finals was just a joy to watch.
As for Spain, coming into the summer extravaganza, there hadn’t been a great deal of expectations considering that they have been going through a stage of transition. But, Luis Enrique & co. have toughed it out when the odds have been against them to make it into the penultimate stages of the Euros, extending their undefeated run to 13 games in all competitions in the process.
Having begun on a disappointing note with back-to-back draws against Sweden and Poland in the group stages, Spain turned on the style to beat Slovakia 5-0 to book a place in the knockouts where they were pushed to the limits, first by Croatia, who eventually lost 5-3 after extra-time before La Roja held their nerve to secure a penalty shootout win over Switzerland in the quarter-finals.
This will be a rematch of the UEFA Euro 2016 Round of 16 contest five years ago when Italy beat Spain 2-0 to send them packing. Following that, the two nations have clashed twice in FIFA World Cup Qualifiers in 2016 and 2017, with Spain drawing and winning one each. Ahead of their latest encounter at Wembley on Tuesday night, which will have so much riding on it, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both teams.
Team News & Tactics
Italy were handed a major blow on the fitness front in their quarter-final tie against Belgium as Leonardo Spinazzola, who had been one of their best performers in the Euros, was stretchered off with an injury, with the 28-year-old now being ruled out for six months. Other than that, Roberto Mancini does not have any other concerns to deal with, although Alessandro Florenzi remains a minor doubt.
As usual, the Azzurri will be lining up in their trademark 4-3-3 formation in front of goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma. There is no looking past the brilliant centre-back pairing of Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, who, at 34 and 36 respectively, continue to lead by example on the field. Giovanni Di Lorenzo should continue at right-back while Emerson Palmieri will step in for the injured Spinazzola on the left.
The midfield trifecta picks itself for Italy after the scintillating display against Belgium. Jorginho, who has been a standout performer so far, will sit at the base of the midfield and look to dictate the tempo of the game. Nicolo Barella, who was on target against Belgium, and Marco Verratti will look to press the opposition high up the pitch and force turnovers, with the former also adding the creative edge from the centre of the park.
Lorenzo Insigne looked in sublime touch in the quarter-final and is a certain starter on the left while Federico Chiesa could yet again be preferred over Domenico Berardi on the right-wing, where he will look to exploit any spaces left behind by the attack-minded Spanish full-back Jordi Alba. Ciro Immobile ought to continue as the centre-forward ahead of Andrea Belotti even though he underwhelmed against Belgium.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Di Lorenzo, Bonucci, Chiellini, Emerson; Barella, Jorginho, Verratti; Chiesa, Immobile, Insigne
Spain, on Tuesday, are also likely to be without one player with Pablo Sarabia a major doubt after picking up an injury against Switzerland. Luis Enrique also revealed that Aymeric Laporte did not train on Sunday but insisted that the defender will be fit and ready for the game at Wembley. The manager is likely to refrain from making changes to the team that started in the quarter-final tie.
Like Italy, Spain will also set up in a 4-3-3 formation in front of goalkeeper Unai Simon, who was the hero in the penalty shootouts against Switzerland. Laporte ought to hold on to his place in the backline, as should Pau Torres, meaning Eric Garcia will miss out yet again while the experienced duo of Cesar Azpilicueta and Jordi Alba start as the full-backs on the right and left sides, respectively.
The onus of shielding the backline and keeping his team on the front-foot when in possession will be on the shoulders of captain and senior midfielder Sergio Busquets. He will receive support from Atletico Madrid’s La Liga-winning captain Koke while Barcelona prodigy Pedri will provide the forward thrust from the centre of the park for Spain.
Ferran Torres ought to hold on to his spot on the right-wing, while Dani Olmo, who has made quite an impression so far in the Euros, should replace the injured Sarabia on the left and act as one of Spain’s chief chance-creator. Alvaro Morata is likely to be backed again as the No. 9 against his club teammates Bonucci and Chiellini on Tuesday night, with Gerard Moreno an option from the bench.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Simon; Azpilicueta, Laporte, Torres, Alba; Koke, Busquets, Pedri; Torres, Morata, Olmo
- This will be the 34th meeting between Italy and Spain. Of the previous 33, the Azzurri have won just nine while La Roja have picked up 12 victories, with 12 games ending in draws.
- Spain have lost just one of their last eight matches against Italy. However, that defeat came in the previous edition of the European Championships in 2016.
- Italy and Spain have met nine times previously in European Championships/World Cup, with the former winning four and the latter just one (D4).
- Spain are currently on a 13-game unbeaten run in all competitions (including friendlies). In fact, La Roja have lost just one of their 18 games since international football resumed after the Covid lockdown in September last year (W9 D8).
- Italy, meanwhile, are on a 32-match undefeated streak – a national team record for the Azzurri. They last lost a game in September 2018, 1-0 against Portugal in the UEFA Nations League.
Player in Focus
Lorenzo Insigne (Italy)
The 30-year-old has been setting the stage alight with some dazzling performances so far in the UEFA Euro 2020 for Italy, starting off with his curling goal against Turkey in the opener to his stunner in the win over Belgium last week in the quarter-final. Insigne’s innate ability to cut inside from the flank and bear down on the goal or find the full-back making the overlapping runs make him such an asset to this Italy outfit.
Up against Cesar Azpilicueta, who is not the most agile defender in the Spain camp, the Napoli captain can prove to be a handful, even though his wonderful link-up with Leonardo Spinazzola will be missed.
Sergio Busquets (Spain)
The most experienced player in the Spain camp and the captain of the team, Sergio Busquets, will have a lot riding on him on Tuesday night. At 32, the Barcelona midfielder has lost some of his mobility which could be a problem against an Italy midfield unit that overran Belgium with ease in the quarter-final.
However, there are few better midfielders than Busquets when it comes to resisting the press of the opposition. Add to that, his ability to always pick the right passes and get into the right positions to provide a passing option to a teammate will be critical for Spain if they are to play their possession-based game and keep their opposition at bay.
Italy 2-1 Spain
Spain have shown great resolve to come as far as the semi-finals after being pushed to the limits in each of their last two games. However, in Italy, they will be coming up against a team, with all due respect to Croatia and Switzerland, that are on a completely different level. Roberto Mancini’s men have shown that they can be tight-knit at the back, vibrant and free-flowing in attack, with most of their key players hitting form.
Spain have also lacked that cutting edge and killer instincts in front of goal at times this tournament despite their big wins against Slovakia and Switzerland. And they might come up short against the seasoned campaigners in Bonucci and Chiellini. All factors considered, The Hard Tackle is leaning towards a win for Italy, taking them another step closer to the UEFA Euro 2020 trophy.