Italy brought to an emphatic end Spain’s eight-year reign as European champions and avenged their 4-0 defeat in the final four years ago, as goals by Giorgio Chiellini and Graziano Pellè earned them a UEFA EURO 2016 quarter-final meeting with Germany on Saturday.
In doing so, Antonio Conte’s team sounded a warning: they will take some stopping on this evidence. But for Spain goalkeeper David de Gea, this could have been a rout, Kyiv in reverse.
Chiellini’s bundled finish opened the scoring on 33 minutes. De Gea kept out Éder’s free-kick but Emanuele Giaccherini’s immediate follow-up enabled the centre-back to tap in.
Italy had dominated from the off. De Gea was at his agile best to repel Pellè’s early header and again to turn Giaccherini’s overhead kick on to a post, although a foul had been given.
Marco Parolo nodded wide and Sergio Ramos shanked one over the bar from Mattia De Sciglio’s menacing low cross.
Spain mixed things up after the break as Andrés Iniesta grew in influence, but still there were chances for Italy, notably when De Gea denied Éder.
Álvaro Morata, Ramos and Iniesta, with a stinging volley, threatened for Spain, though it was Pellè who had the final say, finishing from close range after a fluid Italy counterattack involving Lorenzo Insigne.
Man of the match: Leonardo Bonucci (Italy)
With five clearances and four interceptions – not to mention 28 completed passes out of 31 attempted – the Juventus centre-half was oustanding, keeping his old team-mate Morata so quiet he was eventually replaced. Morata, remember, had scored five in his previous four games.
Change as good as a rest
Conte had rested eight of his Italy side against the Republic of Ireland last time out – not a bad call given they had already topped Group E and covered more distance than any other team in beating Belgium. Did they look fresher here? Just a bit, flying out of the blocks, fielding ten of the XI that had started against Belgium on matchday one.
Also, Spain’s scouts had said Italy play like a club side, with a shared attitude, belief and work ethic. Italian journalists concur, saying they cannot remember a group so united. Witness the anthems!
Spain’s character has also been important, with observers insisting the mood and spirit has been very good during their stay in France. They have been desperate to rid themselves of that feeling of defeat they suffered in Brazil, where their World Cup defence was left in tatters. Alas, as a unit they were second best in Saint-Denis and not even the mercurial skills of Iniesta could rouse them.