The first UEFA Euro 2020 semi-final serves up a mouthwatering clash between European heavyweights Italy and Spain and Oli Coates looks at what La Roja must fear about the Azzurri.
It’s the red of La Roja versus the blue of the Azzurri, as these two traditional powerhouses bid for a place in Sunday’s Final at Wembley against either England or Denmark. The Italians have arguably been the most impressive team at this European Championship so far, while the Spanish have blown hot and cold to get the last four. Luis Enrique’s side have every chance if they perform to the best of their ability, but there are three key things Spain should fear about Italy.
Praising a tight Italian defence may be a tired cliche, but the strength of the Azzurri’s backline cannot be ignored. Veteran centre-backs Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini have been at their commanding best throughout the tournament, keeping three clean sheets in their five matches to this point.
Gianluigi Donnarumma is yet to concede from open play at EURO 2020. The Azzurri goalkeeper was disappointed to allow Austria to score a soft goal from a corner, while soft is also a word we can use to describe the penalty Belgium were awarded in the quarter-finals. That was duly dispatched by Inter striker Romelu Lukaku.
What’s more, Donnarumma has never conceded more than one goal in a single game for Italy, since making his debut back in 2016. If he can extend that record in his 32nd appearance for his country on Tuesday, Italy will have a great chance of reaching the Final. They must overcome the loss of Leonardo Spinazzola at left-back, though. The Roma man has been superb at these Euros but ruptured his Achilles in a late and innocuous-looking incident against Belgium.
Italy’s attack is more exciting than it’s been in years. There’s a real cohesion and fluidity about the Azzurri in the final third, with Mancini’s side showing more attacking flair than Italian teams have often been known for. That’s shown by the fact that Italy have scored three goals in a single European Championship game for the first time in their history in their opening fixture against Turkey. And then they went and did it again in their second game against Switzerland.
Italian supporters will hope Ciro Immobile can get back amongst the goals and create some more positive headlines than in recent days. The Lazio forward netted in the Azzurri’s first two group games but hasn’t found the target since. There’s plenty of strength in depth up top, though, with Lorenzo Insigne scoring a special goal against Belgium and the likes of Federico Chiesa, Nicolò Barella and Manuel Locatelli also contributing.
Italy have scored 11 times in their five EURO 2020 fixtures, but it remains to be seen how the absence of Spinazzola affects their attacking cohesion. Insigne won’t have the same support, potentially hampering his freedom to drift inside, as he did to spectacular effect against the Belgians. If Emerson Palmieri comes into Mancini’s starting XI, he must provide width and attacking impetus.
Italy’s success so far this summer has been built on a solid defence and clinical attack. They’ve largely kept their opponents at bay and taken their chances when they’ve come. Both of those things are crucial, but the third ingredient is the one that could take the Azzurri all the way at EURO 2020 – game management.
If this Italy side get their noses in front, you fancy them to close it out. Unbeaten in 32, the Azzurri are masters of controlling matches. This was evident against Belgium in the last round, when the ball was only in play for nine of the final 21 minutes of the game. The Italians were well worth their victory over the Red Devils, which was based on their wonderful attacking play earlier in the tie. However, they are not afraid to frustrate and disrupt when needed.
Although Spain have scored one more goal than the Italians in this tournament, La Roja have failed to control their games. Enrique’s side have conceded five at the other end to Italy’s two, and if Spain don’t improve their own game management, they could struggle against the Azzurri.