Italy and Spain meet three months after the UEFA Euro 2020 semi-final and Richard Hall takes a look at how the Azzurri have evolved since.
Take yourself back to Wembley Stadium in July 2021, the unexpected warm English summer saw football played out in extraordinary circumstances. There were optimism and hope. Fans were back in the stadiums and Italy were on their way to monumental success. The country watched from afar as the Azzurri took on Spain in the semi-final in what would end up being a nail-biting encounter. Now, in the relatively colder setting of San Siro in October, the two teams meet again in a semi-final. This time it is the Nations League: both teams are here to win, but what have Italy learned since that day in the summer.
That day in July saw Italy outplayed for possession, they also conceded more shots but despite this, Federico Chiesa saw his 60-minute strike take them into the lead. Juventus-based Alvaro Morata levelled for the Spanish 20 minutes later, with the Azzurri winning the game on penalties. They would eventually lift the trophy after overcoming England, but the match against Spain has resonated in many players’ minds.
Roberto Mancini has high hopes of this game and whilst he credits the ability of the Spanish, he also is exhibiting some ambitious rhetoric. He rightly believes that Italy can win this competition. They have a team that is very similar to that which were victorious in June. It is a solid squad and with some tremendous talent, albeit they will have to address the defensive areas when the final Eagle of the Imperial Guard is lowered.
However, it is in attack that the coach may have to look towards his young guns as Ciro Immobile and Andrea Bellotti looked to be ruled out. It has to be said that the recent performances from Moise Kean and Giacomo Raspadori have given the ‘mister’ a lot of food for thought. Federico Chiesa will also haunt Spain and so he should, his electric power, pace and eye for goal will have Luis Enrique nervous about just what happens when the ‘tiki-taka’ breaks down.
Spain are changing (that is a different story) but the Italians must have learned that they are often at their best when they tactically absorb La Roja. The Azzurri have the ability to counter-attack and show power and intelligence that may be more basic to the Spanish game plan but it can be more effective.
Italy will not sit on their laurels, by no means. Gigio Donnarumma was not the only one who warned to be more cautious in this game. He indicated they learned a lot from the last semi-final and that they cannot be intimidated by the passing game that their opponents exhibit.
This is the time to take the game to them, something that the Italian media agree with. Gazzetta Dello Sport said ‘This time we will get the ball’ whilst Corriere Dello Sport was slightly more cautious saying that using Chiesa as a false nine could nullify Spain’s passing game. However, Mancini ruled this option out.
The coac will want to extend the 37-game unbeaten streak and there is still caution about defending the record and containing Spain. Giorgio Chiellini spoke to the press and was still reliving the UEFA Euro 2012 final (old wounds do not always heal). Italy are quite simply at their best under the coach when they approach the game intelligently. Don’t worry about conceding possession and understand that they can defend well and counter-attack with brutal force.
So, what have Italy learned from the last semi-final? Perhaps to be more vigorous in the pressing, more confident with the ball and make Spain realise that they are facing the European Champions. There will always be some caution about this particular opposition, but the old wounds were vanquished. It is a game where they can now realise that they have nothing to prove. If they harness that mentality, then they will stand more of a chance. However, this is Italy; let us see how the media take it if they lose.