Italy v Spain: Record-breaking rivals ready for midfield battle

By Sports Desk July 05, 2021

Italy and Spain are preparing to face one another for the 10th time at a major tournament, but Luis Enrique believes this is an Azzurri side like never before.

The two old rivals have been paired again in the semi-finals at Euro 2020, making this the most common fixture at the European Championship and World Cup combined.

This will be the seventh Euros clash, with the sides meeting at least once in four consecutive championships.

Spain eliminated Italy in 2008 and beat them in the final in 2012 but were toppled by the Azzurri four years later and now face a rejuvenated Roberto Mancini outfit.

"This Italy side isn't, perhaps, like the ones of years gone by – one that would sit back and wait to see what happened," Spain coach Luis Enrique said.

"This is an Italy side with great players who aim to have a lot of possession. This will be the first battle in the game: who dominates possession?

"I don't think both of us can dominate, so it'll be interesting to see who wins this tussle.

"Apart from having top players, Italy are a real team. They attack and defend as a unit, which is really similar to what we do.

"They also employ a high press, which it would be hard to imagine an Italian side from the past doing.

"Now they're strong in several ways of playing, meaning that the game will be really interesting. Both teams will have their moments."

Mancini, whose men are unbeaten in 32 and have won 13 in a row, was asked how Italy's Jorginho might match up against Sergio Busquets.

 

Among midfielders to have played 90 minutes or more at the tournament, Busquets ranks eighth for passes attempted per 90 (77.7) and Jorginho 10th (74.9).

"Certainly, they are among the best in their role," Mancini said.

"Busquets has been a fantastic player for many years. He has been around for longer, compared to Jorginho.

"Considering the way he is playing right now, however, Jorginho is certainly among the best, too."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Italy – Emerson

Leonardo Spinazzola has been one of the tournament's most impressive players at wing-back for Italy, creating seven chances from open play – including one assist – and having a championship-high six shot-ending carries. Emerson is likely to be the man asked to step in, having replaced Spinazzola against Belgium after he was taken off on a stretcher, and has big boots to fill.

Spain – Pedri

Busquets might have been the man at the centre of pre-match discussion, but Pedri has arguably been Spain's most impressive midfield performer at these finals. Against Switzerland, he created five chances and made five tackles. The Barcelona teenager has been involved in five more shot-ending sequences (35) than any other player at Euro 2020.

KEY OPTA FACTS

– Italy have only beaten Spain twice in their past 14 meetings in all competitions (D7 L5), a 2-1 friendly win in 2011 and, most recently, a 2-0 victory at Euro 2016 in the last 16, with goals from Giorgio Chiellini and Graziano Pelle.
– The Azzurri have reached their 12th semi-final at a major tournament (EUROs/World Cup), with only Germany (20) appearing at the final four stage more often among all European sides. They have progressed from nine of the previous 11 semi-final ties, including each of the past four – most recently in this competition in 2012 when they eventually lost in the final to Spain (4-0).
– Italy have won all five of their matches at Euro 2020, the only side of the remaining final four with a 100 per cent record to date. Only at the World Cup (Italia 90) have they won more games at a single major tournament (six), while the only European side to win each of their first six games at a major tournament was the Netherlands at the 2010 World Cup, when they suffered defeat to Spain in the final in South Africa.
– Spain have reached the semi-finals of the European Championships for the third time in the past four editions of the competition (failing to do so in 2016). Indeed, they have gone on to win the competition on each of the past two occasions they have reached the final four – in 2008 and 2012.
– After losing each of their first four matches at Wembley Stadium between 1955 and 1968, Spain have only suffered one defeat in their past five matches there (W2 D2). However, they were knocked out of the Euros in 1996 at Wembley, losing to hosts England on penalties.

Related items

  • England jump to third in FIFA rankings as record-breaking Italy stay fifth England jump to third in FIFA rankings as record-breaking Italy stay fifth

    European champions Italy are on a world record 37-game unbeaten streak, but they remain lodged at number five in the FIFA rankings.

    The world governing body published its new list on Thursday and the only change in the top five saw England jump to third, nudging France down to fourth.

    England were runners-up to Italy in the Euro 2020 final, losing on penalties at Wembley after a 1-1 draw, and two wins and a draw from World Cup qualifiers in September have seen Gareth Southgate's team edge ahead of Les Bleus.

    It is the first time since 2012 that England have reached the top three, and third place remains the highest position they have achieved in the rankings.

    Didier Deschamps' France could only manage two draws and a win in this month's international break, while Italy were held by Bulgaria and Switzerland before landing a 5-0 victory over Lithuania.

    Italy have been a roaring success under the leadership of Roberto Mancini, who inherited a team that failed to qualify for the last World Cup and had plummeted to 21st in FIFA's rankings.

    They set the record for the most games unbeaten at international level during their run of September games, staying in control as leaders of World Cup European qualifying Group C.

    With FIFA's rankings offering significant weighting to World Cup tournament performance, Italy could make a significant leap should their strong form under coach Mancini continue into the Qatar 2022 finals.

    Belgium remain top of the FIFA list, with Brazil in second. Copa America winners Argentina stay sixth.

     

  • Anelka fears star-packed PSG could face Champions League group-stage exit Anelka fears star-packed PSG could face Champions League group-stage exit

    Nicolas Anelka fired a warning that darker days could lie ahead after Paris Saint-Germain fell flat against Club Brugge despite fielding Neymar, Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe in the starting line-up.

    The disappointment of a 1-1 draw in Belgium was compounded by an ankle injury sustained by Mbappe that forced the France forward off early in the second half.

    PSG were out-shot 16-9 by Club Brugge, with Messi having three attempts but proving unable to mark his 150th Champions League appearance with what would have been a 121st goal in the competition.

    Messi had never previously played against a Belgian side in the competition, scoring against teams from all 17 other nations he has faced. The closest he came was when he struck the crossbar in the 29th minute.

    Neymar did not take a shot, while Mbappe had only one attempt before being substituted.

    "It is the PSG that we do not want to see," Anelka said, speaking to French broadcaster RMC Sport.

    "Nothing. There was nothing, except for the first 15 minutes. But apart from that, there was no intensity. We did not see anything offensively, it will be complicated."

    The star attacking trio may take time to become a cohesive threat, given playing together is so very new, but head coach Mauricio Pochettino will be expected to return PSG to winning ways.

    Manchester City visit Paris on September 28, and Anelka is already worried about the Parisians' prospects of finishing in the top two in Group A.

    "If they play like that, it will not be possible," said former PSG and City striker Anelka.

    The result on Wednesday evening means Messi has gone four consecutive Champions League games without enjoying a win (D2 L2). Only between March 2006 and February 2007 has he gone longer without a victory in the competition, then experiencing a run of five with Barcelona around the outset of his career.

    Pochettino saw the performance of his team rather differently to Anelka's viewpoint.

    "The problem today wasn't our three attackers," Pochettino said. "We just had to be more solid in both penalty areas but I'm happy with the defensive performance of our attackers."

    The PSG boss defended Messi's performance, saying of the former Barcelona captain: "When you don't win, people try to put the focus on the less positive aspects.

    "But I'm happy with his performance in terms of his spirit and attitude but also in terms of his adaptation to the team. It is clear that none of us is happy today as here at PSG we want to win every game and then also play well."

  • Goretzka signs new long-term Bayern deal Goretzka signs new long-term Bayern deal

    Germany international Leon Goretzka has signed a new long-term contract with Bayern Munich.

    The 26-year-old's future had been the subject of speculation, as his previous deal was due to expire next June.

    Goretzka will be staying with the Bundesliga champions after agreeing a new contract until June 2026.

    The midfielder told the club's official website: "We've won everything there is to win over the past three years. But what would be even better than winning titles is confirming and repeating these successes.

    "We want to build on this in the coming years. The team, the club and the environment are not just highly professional, but also familiar.

    "This mixture is one of the things that guarantees success at this club. I'm very happy to be extending my contract until 2026."

    Goretzka joined the Bavarian giants from Schalke in 2018 and has won three Bundesliga titles, the Champions League and the DFB Pokal twice.

    He has also lifted the DFL Supercup three times, the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup in 2020.

    Goretzka has scored 25 goals in 118 games for Bayern and put pen to paper on the back of a 3-0 Champions League win at Barcelona on Tuesday.

    Bayern chief executive Oliver Kahn said: "It's crucial for the development of FC Bayern that we keep our top performers long term.

    "To be successful as a club, we need players who are permanently motivated - and Leon Goretzka doesn't need to be told about motivation. He always wants to improve and has the ambition to shape an era at FC Bayern.

    "This contract extension is also a sign Leon is convinced we’ll continue to be as successful in the future as we have been in the past."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.