A rampant Italy will look to end their 15-year wait for a major title when they take on Spain in the Euro 2020 semi-final at Wembley on Tuesday. Heading into the match on a 13-match winning streak, the Azzurri will be favourites, but Spain’s talented squad should not be fazed by the prospect of taking on the tournament favourites.
Italy beat another favourite Belgium 2-1 in the quarter-final, a result that saw Roberto Mancini’s team stretch their remarkable unbeaten run to 33 matches after they previously saw off Turkey, Switzerland and Wales in Rome in the group stage before edging Austria 2-1 after extra time at Wembley in the last 16.
It is the fourth consecutive European Championship in which these sides have met, with Spain winning on penalties in the Euro 2008 quarter-finals and then claiming a stunning 4-0 win in the final in Kiev in 2012.
Italy gained a measure of revenge last time out, winning 2-0 in the last 16 of Euro 2016 in France with Giorgio Chiellini and Graziano Pelle scoring.
For Spain, it has not been a totally smooth ride. Spain have also only won one of their five games in 90 minutes. Yet, a number of Luis Enrique’s biggest calls have come through for him when it mattered most.
Alvaro Morata had to listen to his own fans chant “how bad are you” in a pre-tournament friendly against Portugal. After a host of missed chances, including a penalty, in the group stages, the Juventus striker produced a stunning finish in extra-time to turn the last 16 tie against Croatia back in his side’s favour.
Unai Simon’s comical own goal in that game to open the scoring when he failed to control a simple back pass from Pedri reopened the debate over who should be Spain’s number one. But he kept his side in that match against Croatia with some stunning saves. And then the Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper went on to make two penalty saves in the shootout win over Switzerland in the quarter-finals.
Nationalised just weeks before Euro 2020 kicked off, centre-back Aymeric Laporte has made vital contributions in both boxes as has Cesar Azpilicueta on his international recall after three years.
Further forward, Paris Saint-Germain winger Pablo Sarabia has more than justified his surprise place in the squad with goals against Slovakia and Croatia, while Ferran Torres, Dani Olmo and Mikel Oyarzabal have all made telling contributions when introduced as substitutes.
A familiar foe stands in their respective ways at Wembley for Spain and Italy where a win could give them an opportunity to create history.
Who’s saying what?
Roberto Mancini, Italy coach
“We scored two [against Belgium] and we could have scored more. I think the victory was fully deserved. Spain are next, but the more you progress, the more difficult it becomes.”
Leonardo Bonucci, Italy defender
“We are thriving on this occasion, we have made it this far and we are going to give absolutely everything in our power to make the Italian people proud of this Azzurri side.”
“We have had a flawless run so far, but even if Spain have had some issues we need to put that to one side and really focus on what we need to do, where we need to improve,” said the 34-year-old central defender.
“We simply need to be motivated by the fact we are coming up against such a great and prestigious side in such a wonderful arena as Wembley, in the knowledge that we could be involved in the final in just a few days’ time.”
Luis Enrique, Spain coach
“We are so proud. It’d be ridiculous to think that we, or any of the semi-finalists, would sign for just getting this far now – all of us want to get to the final and win.”
“I always said we were one of the eight candidates to win the European Championship and now we are among the four best.”
Unai Simón, Spain goalkeeper
“We have to go into the semi-final fresh, confident and with our heads high. We have to win the Euro now.”
Italy vs Spain H2H
Stats and Trivia
• The nations have met 37 times: they have recorded 11 victories each and 15 draws, with two Italy wins to one Spanish and three draws in six EURO encounters.
• That UEFA EURO 2016 loss is Spain’s only defeat by Italy in the last seven fixtures between the sides (W2 D4) since a 2-1 friendly loss in Bari in August 2011. In competitive games, that defeat in Saint-Denis five years ago is Spain’s sole reverse in the last six fixtures (W2 D3) since a 2-1 reverse to the Azzurri at the 1994 World Cup – a game current head coach Luis Enrique started for Spain.
• This 38th fixture against Spain means Italy have played only France (39 matches) and Switzerland (59) more frequently; the Azzurri are now Spain’s joint most common opponents, level with Portugal.
• Italy edged past Belgium 2-1 in the UEFA EURO 2020 quarter-finals, recording their 15th successive UEFA European Championship win in the process – a new competition record, eclipsing the mark of 14 they had previously shared with Germany and Belgium themselves. Spain similarly had to hold their nerve to reach the last four, finally finding a way past Switzerland in a penalty shoot-out after a 1-1 draw.
• Italy’s EURO semi-final record is W3 L1:
1968 W 0-0 Soviet Union (won on coin toss)
1988 L 0-2 Soviet Union
2000 W 0-0 Netherlands (aet, 3-1 pens)
2012 W 2-1 Germany
• Spain have won all four of their EURO semi-finals:
1964 W 2-1 v Hungary (aet)
1984 W 1-1 v Denmark (aet, 5-4 pens)
2008 W 3-0 v Russia
2012 W 0-0 v Portugal (aet, 4-2 pens)
• This time round, Italy won all ten of their qualifiers to finish first in Group J, swelling the number of countries to have reached the finals with a perfect record to eight.
• Spain qualified for UEFA EURO 2020 by winning eight and drawing two of their ten qualifiers to finish on 26 points in Group F, five above second-placed Sweden – with whom they drew 0-0 in Group E on Matchday 1. Spain had more shots (227), possession (70%) and completed a greater percentage of their passes (91%) than any other team in qualifying.
• Having never scored three goals in a EURO finals game before this tournament, Italy managed it in both their first two matches, beating Switzerland and Turkey 3-0 at the Olimpico in Rome, where they secured first place in Group A with a 1-0 defeat of Wales on Matchday 3.
• Spain became the first team to score five goals in successive EURO matches with a 5-3 defeat of Croatia in the last 16 on 28 June, a game in which they had led 3-1 with five minutes left. Extra-time goals from Álvaro Morata and Mikel Oyarzabal finally took Spain through.
• Italy’s record in England overall is W8 D6 L11. At EURO ‘96 they played their first two group games at Anfield in Liverpool, where they beat Russia 2-1 before losing to the Czech Republic by the same score, bowing out after a goalless draw against eventual champions Germany at Manchester’s Old Trafford.
• Spain have lost five of their nine games at Wembley (W2 D2), although they did win the most recent, 2-1 against England in the UEFA Nations League in September 2018 thanks to goals from Saúl Ñíguez and Rodrigo. They have also suffered UEFA European Championship elimination at the ground, losing 4-2 on penalties to England after a goalless 120 minutes in the EURO ‘96 quarter-finals.
With AFP and Uefa inputs