Luis Enrique hailed Spain sensation Pedri, comparing the teenager to Barcelona and La Roja great Andres Iniesta following Tuesday's Euro 2020 semi-final loss to Italy.

Italy booked their place in the final with a 4-2 penalty shoot-out victory over Spain after the enthralling showdown finished 1-1 at Wembley.

Despite Spain's frustrating outing after substitute Alvaro Morata cancelled out Federico Chiesa's opener, it was a memorable campaign for 18-year-old star Pedri.

Pedri became the first European player in major tournament history (World Cup and Euros) to start as many as six such matches at the age of 18 or below and Luis Enrique lavished the Barcelona midfielder in praise.

"Well I think no 18-year-old has done what Pedri has done in any major competition, whether it's the Euros, the World Cup or the Olympics," Luis Enrique told reporters.

"His performances, the way he reads the game, the way he finds space, his quality, his personality, I've never seen anything like that, not even Andres Iniesta.

"It's absolutely impossible to explain."

Luis Enrique also lauded attacker Dani Olmo, adding: "[He] was absolutely fantastic today, he's a very intelligent player with plenty of quality. He is good between the lines, he picks up the ball well.

"We wanted to starve [Giorgio] Chiellini and [Leonardo] Bonucci of that focal point and I think we did that really well. We wanted to prevent them from doing what they did with [Romelu] Lukaku so it was about creating that four versus three in that area of the pitch. That meant it was going to be difficult for them to take the ball from us.

"We created a lot of chances and I think we were just missing that final step in terms of taking some of our chances. It's very difficult to get the ball off a player like Dani Olmo so I think the players implemented our tactics to perfection. Olmo is a very important player for us because he can play in a range of different situations. He can score goals and he's a very complete footballer."

 

Left out of the starting line-up for the first time this tournament, Morata made an impact from the bench by equalising with 10 minutes remaining in normal time following Chiesa's 60th-minute opener.

Neither side could find a way through in the additional period in what was a repeat of the 2012 final, which Spain won 4-0 for their third European title, though it was Italy who prevailed in Tuesday's enthralling clash.

Morata's penalty was saved by Gianluigi Donnarumma, paving the way for Jorginho to convert the winning spot-kick, as Italy extended their unbeaten run to 33 games to set up a clash with either England or Denmark in Sunday's final at the same ground. 

Embattled forward Morata has now scored more goals at the European Championships than any other Spain player (six), overtaking Fernando Torres' five goals. In fact, Morata became the first ever Spain player to score for club and country at Wembley.

Morata is also in rarefied company as the second player to scored three or more times in multiple Euros after Cristiano Ronaldo, who has done so on three occasions.

"He has an abductor problem. It really says a lot about his personality that despite that he wanted to take a penalty. He's gone through some tough times during this tournament but he was brilliant," said Luis Enrique.

"He really created a lot of uncertainty in the Italian ranks, he scored of course, so he was excellent. I haven't seen him because he's had to go to doping control. I was able to see Jordi Alba, but I'll go and see him now.

After Spain failed to progress from a semi-final at a major tournament (World Cup and Euros) for the first time in their history, Luis Enrique said: "I'd say that it would be an A- for my players, it would be an A+ had we won. We've been speaking about how we want to play at the Euros for many months.

"The players really bought into that and they did a wonderful job of it. I have no complaints. Really, I just want to congratulate my players. We've shown that we are a team and that we are going to continue doing that. Now it's important for us to rest while the rest of the teams compete and we'll see each other again at future training camps."

Italy will have a shot at their first European title for 53 years after overcoming Spain on penalties in Tuesday's Euro 2020 semi-final.

Four-time world champions Italy were taken to extra-time at Wembley, where Alvaro Morata cancelled out Federico Chiesa's opener to ensure it was 1-1 after 90 minutes.

Neither side could find the breakthrough during the additional half hour and Manuel Locatelli and Dani Olmo failed with the opening penalties for their respective sides.

But Morata turned from hero to villain when Gianluigi Donnarumma saved his tame spot-kick and Jorginho converted to book a final showdown with either England or Denmark.

For Spain, and Morata in particular, this night could have ended up feeling very different indeed.

 

Italy claim the spoils in latest instalment of titanic rivalry

At the expense of their fellow heavyweights, Italy reached the 10th major tournament final and fourth in this competition. Only Germany (14) have competed in more among European nations.

Spain chalked up an unwanted first, having progressed on each of their previous five semi-final appearances at World Cups and European Championships.

Luis Enrique's side went the distance for a third consecutive match after beating Croatia 5-3 in extra time and seeing off Switzerland in a quarter-final shoot-out – equalling the record for the most extra-time periods in a single Euro (Portugal, 2016).

No side have been taken to extra time more often in the history of the competition than Italy (nine).

 

History before heartbreak for Morata

Morata has been a focus of derision for some throughout this tournament and, unfortunately, it looks like there will be plenty more of that to come.

Before kick-off at Wembley it even looked as if Luis Enrique had lost faith.

The Spain boss has been a staunch defender of his main forward in the face of persistent criticism, but opted to go with a fluid front three of Ferran Torres, Dani Olmo and Mikel Oyarzabal.

Morata entered the fray in place of Manchester City forward Torres in the 62nd minute and coolly dispatched Spain's equaliser with 10 to play in normal time.

The Juventus man has now scored more goals at the European Championship than any other Spain player with six, overtaking Fernando Torres.

He is also in rarefied company as the second player to scored three or more times in multiple Euros after Cristiano Ronaldo, who has done so on three occasions.

Playing for Chelsea in 2017-18, Morata scored in a 2-0 FA Cup semi-final win over Southampton, meaning on Tuesday he became the first Spanish player to net at Wembley for both club and country.

Morata's is a truly accomplished body of work and one he can hopefully take solace in over the tough days and weeks ahead.

 

Chiesa helps Italy to share the load

Roberto Mancini's freewheeling attack were denied their usual joy by Spain during the opening stages.

Left-back Emerson hit the crossbar in the 45th minute – Italy's first shot of the game and their longest wait for an attempt on goal in the tournament.

Indeed, only versus the Netherlands at Euro 2000 have they had to wait so long in the modern era, with the Oranje keeping the Azzurri at bay until the 48th minute.

As in the last 16 against Austria, Chiesa was again on target at Wembley,

That meant Italy became the second team in the European Championship history after winners France at Euro 2000 to have five different players score two or more goals in a single tournament.

Chiesa joined Locatteli, Lorenzo Insigne, Ciro Immobile and Matteo Pessina on two for the competition.

Italy's 12 goals at Euro 2020 is their joint-highest tally at a major tournament alongside the 2006, 1982 and 1934 World Cups. On each of those occasions, they left with the trophy.

 

Perfection for pass master Pedri

Spain outperformed many pre-tournament expectations and in Pedri, they have a potential superstar of the global game for years to come.

The Barcelona midfielder is the first ever player to start six games in a single Euro or World Cup aged 18 or below.

In normal time, Pedri completed all 56 of his passes, including 37 in the Italy half. He became the second player in Euros history to record 100 per cent accuracy after 90 minutes, although France's Samuel Umtiti (76/76 at Euro 2016) probably had an easier route to his statistics from centre-back.

At the end of extra time, he had completed 65 of 67 passes. Nobody's perfect, eh?

Football can be cruel; we know that. But it seems especially mean to Alvaro Morata.

The man who was booed by his own fans, who dragged Spain through against Croatia, was finally dropped for the Euro 2020 semi-final against Italy. A purely tactical choice, but one perhaps at odds with Luis Enrique's hot-blooded defiance towards the naysayers who wanted Morata out of the team.

How amazing it was to see Morata then come off the bench and equalise with 10 minutes to go, bellow a quick "Vamos!" into the camera and get the ball back to the centre-circle. And how inevitable it felt when his tame penalty was saved, as Spain's draining campaign ended at last in another shoot-out.

Morata should not be blamed, though. Rather, Spain's failings in attack have been prevalent throughout. That might sound strange since, before the semi-finals, they were the top-scoring side in the tournament with 12, and they ended it with 13, their best goals return at a single European Championship.

But they should have had more, and not just at Wembley Stadium. They came into the contest with nine scored (excluding penalties and own goals) from 15.6 expected goals. That difference of -3.56 was the worst of any side at these finals. By the end of the semi-final, their tally stood at 10 from an xG of 17.1.

 

They had been looking promising, too. Spain may not have enthralled at these finals – just ask Rafael "they're horrible to watch" van der Vaart – but they mastered that critical art of getting better as the tournament went on.

From the drudgery of two group-stage draws – where they averaged a shot on target for 458 passes against Sweden and then let Poland have a point – La Roja sharpened up. They dismantled Slovakia in the crucial third game and put Croatia to the sword in the last 16 (even if they tried hard to throw it away). In the quarter-final against Switzerland, they fired in 28 shots across 120 minutes and only Yann Sommer's brilliance forced the contest to go to penalties.

In a damp, cool evening in London, against many observers' favourites for the trophy, Spain looked fully warmed up. The passing from midfield was crisp and purposeful; the introduction of Dani Olmo as the false nine left Italy's central trio outnumbered and scrambling after white shirts. Olmo could have scored, and Mikel Oyarzabal really should have, scuffing a shot within reach of Gianluigi Donnarumma. Italy took 45 minutes to attempt a shot, Emerson Palmieri skimming the crossbar from a tight angle.

Even after Federico Chiesa put the Azzurri ahead with an excellent finish after an hour, there was little panic within the Spain ranks. Rather, there was an acceptance, an expectation that chances would come, as they have all tournament. They duly did, Oyarzabal missing the ball when a simple headed finish presented itself, and Olmo fizzing a shot wide. Ultimately, it was Morata who went from scrutinised starter to super-sub, turning in midfield, exchanging passes with Olmo and leaving Donnarumma dumbfounded with a clinical finish.

 

Perhaps inevitably, though, it was on Spain's midfielders that everything rested. The game seemed to ebb and flow depending on which of them had the ball at any given moment. The three were like brothers from the same footballing lineage: teenager Pedri, experienced Koke, veteran Busquets. They certainly kept the ball like a family secret. Pedri completed all 56 of his passes before extra time; Busquets only misplaced four of his throughout. You'd be forgiven for thinking Koke played for Barcelona, such was his understanding with the Catalan duo.

Yet midfield control wasn't enough. At Euro 2020, it has never been enough for them. It would be unfair to suggest Italy were playing for penalties but, as soon as they came, you felt there was only one winner. Giorgio Chiellini laughed, jostled and bear-hugged Jordi Alba at the pre-shoot-out coin toss. He seemed to know. Morata did, too, the Juventus striker nodding ruefully after Donnarumma guessed right to save his spot-kick. And everyone in Wembley and around the world knew Jorginho would bury the winner.

Few had any clear idea about what Spain would achieve at these finals. Luis Enrique proved he can cultivate a strong-minded squad and navigate the rigours of a tournament; even his infamously poor relationship with the national press should not detract from a positive few weeks. They look a realistic bet for at least the latter stages of the World Cup next year.

But those concerns in attack will only grow if they cannot become a more ruthless side between now and November 2022. Like their immaculate midfield, Spain are building, patiently, expertly, but without knowing quite where it will lead.

Spain's penalty shoot-out defeat to Italy will live long in the memory of Alvaro Morata for all the wrong reasons after his crucial failure from the spot, but La Roja wouldn't have even got to extra-time without the maligned striker's historic goal.

Roberto Mancini's Azzurri appeared to be heading to the final thanks to Federico Chiesa's gorgeous opener, but Morata – a second-half substitute – levelled in the 80th minute to force extra-time.

Morata had been dropped from the starting XI after being withdrawn early in the second half of the quarter-final against Switzerland.

Although the forward, on loan at Juventus from Atletico Madrid, had been a regular source of frustration in Euro 2020, with his six Opta-defined big chances missed being more than any other player at the tournament, that decision still came as something as a surprise given Luis Enrique's staunch backing of him.

The coach was seemingly banking on the dynamism of Dani Olmo, Ferran Torres and Mikel Oyarzabal causing issues for Italy's aging centre-back pairing, but with Spain chasing the game he turned to the much-maligned striker.

Morata vindicated his introduction, with his fine goal taking him to three for Euro 2020 and six in all European Championship tournaments, setting a new record for La Roja.

His confident left-footed finish moves Morata ahead of Fernando Torres in that regard, while it also made him only the second player in Euros history to score three or more in multiple editions of the competition after Cristiano Ronaldo.

But Morata saw his spot-kick saved by Gianluigi Donnarumma in the shoot-out, the Italy goalkeeper diving to his left to easily keep the feeble attempt at bay. Jorginho coolly swept home his effort a few moments later to send the Azzurri into the final.

 

Alvaro Morata went from hero to zero at Wembley after rescuing extra time for Spain before missing a penalty in the shoot-out as Italy booked their place in the Euro 2020 final.

The Juventus loanee was left out of Spain's starting line-up for the first time this tournament but made an impact from the bench by cancelling out Federico Chiesa's superb curled opener 10 minutes from time as the game finished 1-1 after 90 minutes.

Neither side could find a way through in the additional period in what was a repeat of the 2012 final, which Spain won 4-0 for their third European title, though it was Italy who prevailed in Tuesday's enthralling clash.

Morata's penalty was saved by Gianluigi Donnarumma, paving the way for Jorginho to convert the winning spot-kick in a 4-2 shoot-out triumph, as Italy extended their unbeaten run to 33 games to set up a clash with either England or Denmark in Sunday's final at the same ground. 

Alvaro Morata has been dropped to the bench for Spain's Euro 2020 semi-final against Italy at Wembley.

The 28-year-old Juventus striker had started all five of Spain's matches at the tournament, scoring twice – including a vital extra-time strike in the dramatic 5-3 win over Croatia in the round of 16.

But Morata has also endured a tough time in front of goal, missing a penalty during the 5-0 rout of Slovakia.

Of his 16 non-penalty attempts in the tournament, seven have been on target and he is under-performing an expected goals (xG) tally of 3.16, as per Opta.

Luis Enrique has staunchly defended the former Atletico and Real Madrid player but substituted him after 54 minutes of the quarter-final against Switzerland.

Gerard Moreno was his replacement in St Petersburg but the Villareal striker went on to endure a similarly wasteful outing and Luis Enrique has opted for a mobile front three without a specialist centre-forward, with Dani Olmo and Mikel Oyarzabal starting alongside Ferran Torres.

That means Pablo Sarabia misses out, alongside Gerard's club team-mate Pau Torres, who is replaced at centre-back by Eric Garcia.

Italy boss Roberto Mancini makes the one expected change to the XI that beat Belgium, with Chelsea left-back Emerson coming in for Leonardo Spinazzola, whose magnificent tournament was cut short by a ruptured Achilles.

This is the fourth consecutive European Championship meeting between Italy and Spain, with the latter winning a quarter-final penalty shoot-out in 2008 before swaggering to a dominant 4-0 final win at Euro 2012.

Italy, under Antonio Conte, gained a measure of revenge with a 2-0 last-16 triumph in Paris at Euro 2016.

Alvaro Morata may not have been prolific in terms of goals at Euro 2020 but his selfless work for the team is vital for Spain, according to Gaizka Mendieta.

Striker Morata has scored twice to help Luis Enrique's side reach the semi-finals of the tournament, though his failure to capitalise on the opportunities that have come his way has led to criticism.

Indeed, the 28-year-old has been booed by his own fans both before and during the European Championship, while his family have been targeted for abuse too.

Yet former Spain international Mendieta feels Morata's team-mates appreciate all he does for the cause, even if his finishing has let him down at times. From 15 attempts, he has a shot conversion rate of 13.33 per cent.

An expected goals total of 3.95 highlights a shortcoming for the former Chelsea and Real Madrid player in front of goal, yet he has started every game ahead of the last-four clash with Italy at Wembley on Tuesday.

Gerard Moreno – an alternative option to lead the line in place of Morata – has yet to score at the European Championship from 15 shots, while Dani Olmo has been unsuccessful with all of his 16 attempts. The problem for La Roja in general has been taking chances, rather than creating them.

"I think people are being very critical," Mendieta told Stats Perform. "I believe Morata is a player who gives a lot to the team in terms of work, mobility, keeping the ball and creating spaces for midfielders and wingers like Olmo, [Ferran] Torres or even Moreno.

"I think he is doing a great job and that's one of the main reasons he is in the team. Of course, he is a striker and you expect goals from him and unfortunately it is where he has been unlucky.

"He hasn't finished the chances he had and that's what has made noise.

"Beyond this, I think the team is grateful for his work. He is the first one realising he should improve scoring and creating chances and I am sure he is working on it.

"Those critics are understandable, but his efforts are respected."

 

Luis Enrique has been unequivocal in his support of Morata, describing the abuse directed at the player and his family as a "serious crime" as he called for the authorities to take action.

The Spain boss has steered the team through choppy waters at Euro 2020. Having opened the campaign with two dour draws, the 2012 winners found their scoring touch in a 5-0 thrashing of Slovakia to qualify behind Sweden from Group E.

A wild last-16 clash with Croatia eventually went Spain's way after extra time, while a penalty shoot-out was required to see off Switzerland in the quarter-finals.

Mendieta, however, feels Luis Enrique has created an environment where his players are able to respond to any match situation, good or bad.

"He gives value to the player in order to make him part of the plan," he said of the former Barcelona head coach.

"I think that is reflected on the pitch; a common idea but at the same time it is the player who needs to find solutions. The coach cannot do that for them on the pitch.

"That's why I think the Spain team had a great reaction in tough times in some games. Especially in the group stage, in the last game. They are a team with a great character, just like Luis Enrique himself."

Euro 2020 is disappearing before our eyes, with the delayed tournament somehow already at the business end as we head into the final three matches.

It's been a thrill ride since the very beginning. From Italy making a sparkling start and Denmark rallying after Christian Eriksen's medical emergency, to France falling at the last 16 and England reaching the semi-finals of a second successive major tournament.

Italy, England, Spain and Denmark are all that's left as Euro 2020 enters its final week, and at this point it seems particularly tricky to call, particularly between first three.

But, given how integral statistics are to football these days, data can potentially give you edge when attempting to predict certain outcomes, and this is where Stats Perform's Artificial Intelligence team comes in as they've used Opta's extensive data reserves to quantify each semi-finalist's chances of winning tournament.

Every match has been run through the Stats Perform Euros Prediction model to calculate the estimated probability of the outcome (win, draw or loss). This uses odds from betting markets and Stats Perform team rankings, which are based on historical and recent performances and also takes into consideration the strength of each side's opponents.

The games are then simulated 40,000 times and analysed, providing the AI team with a percentage for each nation, showing the probability of them ultimately lifting the trophy at Wembley on July 11.

Without any further ado, let's take a look at the results…

Denmark (8.8 per cent chance of winning Euro 2020)

The fact Denmark even got out of their group was an achievement in itself as they became the first team to ever reach the knockout phase having lost their opening two matches. Yet, here we are.

The Danes are into the last four for the first time since winning the competition in 1992 and have really hit their stride since their two early defeats, with only Spain (12) outscoring Kasper Hjulmands' men until this point (11) – that haul is the most they've ever managed at a major tournament.

 

Denmark have projected a real sense of unity since Eriksen collapsed against Finland, and it's hard to believe they will fear anyone at this point.

Nevertheless, England should represent trickier opposition than the likes of Wales and the Czech Republic, which is perhaps reflected by the fact their 8.8 per cent chance of winning the title is the lowest of the four remaining teams.

But if standout performers such as Joakim Maehle, Simon Kjaer and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg continue to deliver the goods, who's to say they cannot emulate the 1992 vintage?

 

Spain (23.1 per cent)

Luis Enrique's Spain have been a fascinating watch at Euro 2020, partly because they somehow manage to flitter between exceptional and unrefined. Their erratic nature has become one of the sideshows of the tournament.

For example, only the Netherlands (53) have forced more high turnovers than Spain, while La Roja are the sole side to break the 100 barrier in terms of sequences of 10 or more passes (147). They only allow their opponents 8.3 passes on average in the defensive third before they initiate a defensive action, indicating they are the most intense pressers at the tournament, and their haul of 12 goals is more than anyone else.

 

Yet, their xGA (expected goals against) of 6.8 is comfortably the worst of the four teams left, and their xG underperformance of 3.6 is the biggest of all 24 teams. In short, these points suggest that not only have Spain been lucky to only concede five times, they are also the most wasteful team at Euro 2020.

 

That's obviously not helped by the fact Gerard Moreno (no goals from 3.3 xG) and Alvaro Morata (two goals from 3.95 xG) are among the three players with the worst xG underperformance records in the competition.

However, they've got this far and have still crafted plenty of goal-scoring opportunities, with their record of 25 big chances a tournament-high. If the penny drops with Spain's forwards and they start to convert in line with their xG, they could have real joy.

 

England (29.1 per cent)

It would be fair to say England's performances in the group stage, although not alarming, certainly didn't inspire a huge amount of confidence as they scored just two goals. But in the two games since, they have netted six times and attracted significant acclaim.

The fact they don't necessarily stand out in many specific team metrics (perhaps bar 10+ passing sequences – 98, second to Spain) is arguably partly down to how flexible Gareth Southgate's team have been in their approach to specific games. For example, their passes per defensive action (PPDA) dropped from 13.7 against Scotland to 25.9 against Germany, suggesting they were concerned about the German midfield playing through their press and instead sat back more in order to cut off passing routes.

Of course, adapting to your opponents is hardly revolutionary, most teams do it to a certain extent, but in a tournament where Spain and Italy have almost religiously stuck to principals and formations that govern their setups, England have chopped and changed.

 

It's clearly worked as well given the fact the Three Lions have equalled a major-tournament record of five successive clean sheets, while their 2.95 xGA (with no goals conceded) leads the way at Euro 2020.

With their defence seemingly watertight and Harry Kane finding some confidence with three goals in two games, England look in great shape. If our prediction model took into consideration that all of the remaining games are to be at Wembley, they'd likely be a bit closer to top spot.

 

Italy (38.9 per cent)

It seems like a long time ago now that Italy came into Euro 2020 as – some claimed at the time – unknown quantities. The common conception was that their 27-match unbeaten run coming into the tournament was misleading because most of the games were said to have been against sub-optimal opposition.

Well, they are now at 32 games unbeaten having won or drawn all of their five matches to this point at Euro 2020, setting a new national record in the process.

But, more than that, they've been utterly joyful to watch. They are relentless in attack, as highlighted by their tournament-leading shot (11) and goal-ending high turnovers (three), but also impressive at the back having only conceded one non-penalty goal.

 

Built around a solid core of Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Jorginho, Marco Verratti and Nicolo Barella that expertly blends craft and guile arguably unlike any team at Euro 2020, Roberto Mancini's turned Italy into a side that's not only been generally fun to watch, but also effective.

Spain represent a completely different challenge to any other side Italy have faced thus far, yet Luis Enrique's men have afforded their opponents plenty of chances. The Azzurri have been consistent throughout in attack, as demonstrated by their 11 goals from 10.3 xG. Without the one own goal in their favour, it would be 10 from 10.3 xG.

 

Italy have shown no major weaknesses en route to the semi-finals, and as such our model suggests it is they who have the greatest chance of success this week.

Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci leapt to the defence of Juventus team-mate and embattled Spain forward Alvaro Morata ahead of their Euro 2020 semi-final showdown.

Spain's Morata has been on the wrong end of criticism for his performances at Euro 2020, while he reportedly received death threats amid online abuse directed at his family.

Team-mates at club level for Juve in Serie A, Bonucci and Morata will face-off when Italy play Spain in Tuesday's Euro 2020 semi-final at Wembley and the former heaped praise on the 28-year-old Spaniard.

"I was really struck by what happened to him and what we all have to go through," Bonucci said of the death threats directed at Morata. "I've also had to go through what he has gone through, and I know what it's like to read certain things and feel certain things as well.

"I've always been right behind him, he's always had my support. Alvaro is a wonderful person, he is a great guy, a wonderful father, and a terrific footballer.

"He's a complete striker, because he can run into space high up the pitch, makes late runs, holds the ball up well. He's one of the best strikers in world football, thankfully at club football he is a team-mate of mine over the course of the season.

"We need to make sure we are switched on tomorrow [Tuesday], not only to keep an eye on Morata but the team as a whole."

Spain are the highest scoring team at Euro 2020, with 12 goals from five games, including two strikes via Morata.

Bonucci was pressed on comparisons between Morata and Inter star Romelu Lukaku, whom Italy faced in the quarter-finals with Belgium.

"They are two top strikers," the 34-year-old Bonucci said. "When you get to this level, this stage of the competition, all the countries you come up against and all of the strikers you face are terrific.

"Alvaro has some very specific qualities that are different attributes to what Lukaku is all about. We need to be very switched on in terms of fine margins and small details, to make sure we really can come away with a big result."

Italy – riding a national record 32-game unbeaten streak – 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 are featuring in their 12th semi-final at a major tournament (Euros and World Cup), with only Germany (20) appearing at the final-four stage more often among all European sides.

Italy 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).

Roberto Mancini's 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 (1990) have they won more games at a single major tournament (six), while the only European team 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.

But Bonucci played down the favourites tag, telling reporters: "I think when its Italy against Spain in a European Championship semi-final, there's no such thing as a favourite. Yes, we have had a flawless run so far, but even though Spain have faced some issues, that doesn't matter, we need to put it to one side.

"We really need to focus on what we need to do, where we can improve. We simply need to be motivated by the fact we're coming up against such a great, prestigious side in a wonderful arena such as Wembley, in the knowledge we can make it to the final in a few days' time."

Luis Enrique said it was a good thing Gerard Moreno missed a string of chances in Spain's victory against Switzerland rather than Alvaro Morata following the recent criticism aimed at the Juventus striker.

Three-time European champions Spain booked their place in the semi-finals of Euro 2020 on Friday with a dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over 10-man Switzerland.

La Roja, who needed extra time to overcome Croatia in the last 16, were pegged back by a Xherdan Shaqiri strike in St Petersburg after Denis Zakaria's own goal had put them in front.

Even after Remo Freuler's dismissal with 77 minutes played, Luis Enrique's men could not find a way through due to a mixture of profligacy and a number of Yann Sommer saves – a tournament-high 10 in total.

Gerard replaced Morata and endured a tough time of it, the Villarreal striker missing a number of good opportunities to win the tie for Spain before penalties were required.

He managed six shots, half of those on target, while his expected goals (xG) return of 3.3 for the tournament so far is the highest of any player yet to score at Euro 2020.

Morata revealed last week he and his family had been subjected to abuse by Spain fans, and Luis Enrique is glad the striker was not the recipient of any more criticism on Friday.

"Luckily it was Gerard Moreno who failed to take the chances. If Morata misses them, you impale him," the Spain head coach said after the quarter-final win.

"It's quite evident what Morata has experienced and what Gerard has experienced. They are both my players and I love them very much."

 

Spain are the sixth team to progress from two separate knockout games of a single European Championship tournament that went to extra time or beyond, all five previous sides going on to lift the trophy.

They were on the back foot when Sergio Busquets missed the first spot-kick, but Fabian Schar, Manuel Akanji and Ruben Vargas all failed to find the net for Switzerland.

Asked if he felt nervous watching the shoot-out, Luis Enrique said: "It was a tranquil moment for me because we'd already worked on everything. Nothing else could be done.

"Win or lose on penalties, the team would have done excellently for my judgement. For how they've handled this, how they've played, how they've represented Spain.

"We are so proud. It'd be ridiculous to think that we, or any of the semi-finalists, would settle for just getting that far now – all of us want to get to the final and win.

"I've said from the outset that we are one of the seven or eight teams which, no exaggeration, could win this trophy – now we're one of four."

Switzerland knocked out competition favourites France on penalties in the last round following an incredible 3-3 draw, but they ultimately could not do likewise against Spain.

It is the fourth time the Swiss have been eliminated from a major tournament at the last-eight stage, with each of those previous occasions coming in the World Cup.

"I have mixed feelings," said head coach Vladimir Petkovic after the game. "I have pride – we can all be so proud. We leave here with our heads held high. 

"On the other hand, we were so close to the semi-final, and that doesn't happen often. I have more positive than negative feelings.

"Congratulations to Spain. They tried everything and in the end won on penalties. I am very proud of my team, and all the players.

"My players were the heroes of the night. We would have deserved to go to the semi-final."

Alvaro Morata says he knows why he has been the target of the boo boys during Euro 2020 but is not prepared to talk about the reasons until after Spain's campaign is over.

The Juventus striker has scored twice during the tournament, including a fine effort that put Luis Enrique's side back in front during extra time of the exhilarating 5-3 win over Croatia in the last 16.

At the same time, Morata has missed a glut of opportunities. Indeed, his six missed big chances – as defined by Opta – is the most of any player, and the return lower than an expected goals rate of 3.95.

More may also have been expected given Morata has had 15 shots in total (joint highest with Cristiano Ronaldo), eight of which have been on target – the joint-best with Patrik Schick, who has four goals to his name.

Morata's indifferent finishing has led to heavy criticism from sections of the fan base, while the ex-Chelsea forward revealed his family had been the target of abuse and threats – actions head coach Luis Enrique rightly described as "criminal" and urged for police action to be taken.

He will have the opportunity to keep silencing his critics when Spain go up against Switzerland in the quarter-finals on Friday and Morata has no issue addressing his detractors when the time is right.

"I know the reason [why they keep booing me]," he told Deportes Cuatro. "I know it perfectly well and it isn't very difficult to understand.

"When the European Championship finishes, if everything goes well, I will speak. I have no problem. I am fully aware why they boo me, of course."

 

Spain's eventual triumph over Croatia was an instant European Championship classic but Morata has not spent much time reviewing that game.

He added: "I haven't watched [the goal] a lot.

"I really want to watch the match. I have seen highlights, but I want to watch it with the whole team to improve.

"It was a match of many emotions and it was good for people who watched it in television, but we lost control of the match twice and that can't happen again.

"The [Croatia] match will be remembered as long as we keep winning."

As well as having the unwavering support of his coach, Morata's team-mates seemingly have full confidence in his ability to lead the line too.

Chelsea defender Cesar Azpilicueta says Morata is going through similar experiences to Spanish greats David Villa and Fernando Torres but has already proven capable of handling the pressure.

"Alvaro is becoming more and more mature. He has received criticism, but he is the forward of the team," Azpilicueta told Marca.

"It happened to Villa, to Fernando...it's not easy. Alvaro has shown that he knows how to be and face the challenges that lay ahead.

"He has confidence in himself and not only because of the goal, but also because of the great game he played."

When Dani Olmo's right-footed cross curled through the fervent Copenhagen evening, it only had one man's name on it.

The name of a striker who has plied his trade at the top of European football for the duration of his career, the name of a player chosen to lead the line for one of the continent's great footballing heavyweights.

But also the name of a 28-year-old man with a wife and a young family, whose struggles at Euro 2020 have provoked unforgivable threats from poisonous throats and wicked fingers.

"I would like people to put themselves in my shoes and think what it's like to get threats towards my family, people saying: 'I hope your children die'," Alvaro Morata told Cadena Cope this week, after scoring once but missing a catalogue of chances during the group stage.

"I've had to leave my phone outside my room. My wife and children have come to the stadium in Seville with Morata on the back of their shirts and people have been shouting at them. 

"It's complicated. I understand people booing me for missing chances but there's a limit."

Olmo, who himself slammed Morata's abusers for "going beyond" had put his team-mate in the spotlight once more. It was a perfect cross at odds with the frenzied, haywire nonsense that had gone before.

But then, that's Spain at major tournaments nowadays. It's complicated.

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Since winning Euros 2008 and 2012 either side of the 2010 World Cup, Spain were without a win in major tournament knockout games ahead of Monday's last-16 encounter with Croatia at Parken Stadium.

At the 2014 World Cup, they were dumped out at the group stage, at Euro 2016 they were comprehensively outplayed by Antonio Conte's Italy and the hosts bored them to a penalty shoot-out loss at Russia 2018.

But this time it would be different, right?

In Luis Enrique, they have a high-class coach with a point to prove. They put collective goalscoring demons behind them by shellacking Slovakia 5-0 and began against Croatia with authoritative dominance.

Pedri, the youngest player to start a European Championship knockout game at 18 years and 215 days, had everyone dancing to his tune. A stunning throughball released Koke, who should have scored. Morata, naturally, also should have scored but misjudged a header.

It seemed a matter of time before Spain scored with Pedri heavily involved. The Barcelona youngster pinging a 40-yard backpass beyond a haphazard attempt at control from goalkeeper Unai Simon – giving Croatia the lead before they had enjoyed either a shot or a touch inside the opposition penalty area – was not in anyone's script, however.

                       ********************

Scripts, match reports and strands of hair have long since been ripped apart by the time Morata smoothly controlled Olmo's centre with his right foot.

It was time to make his impression upon a contest of clinical finishing and frazzled brains.

"The situation is so serious that it must be put in the hands of the police because it is a serious crime," Luis Enrique rightly said when addressing the media this week.

"Insulting Morata's relatives is a crime and I hope it is corrected outright."

In the sporting sense, he had seen his team fall victim to an improbable heist and needed the centre-forward he trusts above all others.

Around 50 minutes earlier, Morata could look on with satisfaction and leave the finishing to right-back Cesar Azpilicueta, who powered home Ferran Torres' 57th-minute cross.

The effervescent Pablo Sarabia equalised before half-time and Torres getting in on the act showed Spain have enough firepower to absorb Morata's more erratic moments and enjoy his slick, intelligent link play. He created two openings for team-mates and completed 84 per cent of his passes deep in Croatian territory.

Luka Modric, the old master so outplayed by Pedri, was goaded into penning the sting in the tail as he shuffled towards the Spain six-yard box to set up substitute Mislav Orsic.

Right then, it felt as if Luis Enrique might have erred in taking off Sarabia, Torres and Koke to rest their legs for the quarters, not to mention disrupting Aymeric Laporte and Eric Garcia's central defensive pairing by throwing on Pau Torres for the latter.

When Mario Pasalic converted Orsic's brilliant delivery from deep to spark unbridled bedlam, we had our answer.

                       ********************

Morata's perfect first touch granted him time in a game where no one seemed to have any, despite an additional 30 minute being bolted on.

Orsic blazed over at the start of extra time with Spain rocking, while Andrej Kramaric drew a magnificent save from Simon when the score was 3-3.

In terms of redemptive moments, that was only the supporting act.

Where he has snatched at changes so often of late, Morata found time to breath and let the ball drop enough for him to drive his left boot brutally through.

It was in from the moment he connected. Olmo's fellow sub Mikel Oyarzabal concluded a 5-3 win, making Spain the first team to score five goals in consecutive European Championship matches.

That's an awful lot to celebrate for some who have mercilessly tormented their hero of the hour and his loved ones. They don't deserve Alvaro Morata, and the endurance and perseverance that mean one of this tournament's greatest ever games belongs to him.

Alvaro Morata and Mikel Oyarzabal scored extra-time goals to earn Spain a 5-3 win over Croatia in Monday's breathless Euro 2020 last-16 tie after La Roja had squandered a two-goal lead late on in normal time.

Spain recovered from a bizarre Pedri own goal at Parken Stadium thanks to strikes from Pablo Sarabia, Cesar Azpilicueta and Ferran Torres to lead 3-1 with 85 minutes played.

However, Mislav Orsic bundled in to give Croatia a lifeline in Copenhagen and then set up fellow substitute Mario Pasalic in the 92nd minute to take an enthralling game to extra time.

But Spain dug deep in the additional period to book a place in the quarter-finals, where either France or Switzerland await, with Morata making amends for an earlier miss with a well-taken goal and Oyarzabal adding a second from the bench to settle a game that will go down as a European Championship classic.

Profligacy cost Spain in their opening two group games and that looked like being the case again in Copenhagen after Koke was denied by Dominik Livakovic from a one-on-one and Morata headed into Domagoj Vida from close range.

A comical moment followed as Pedri's pass from 49.4 yards was miscontrolled by Unai Simon and rolled into the back of the net, making it the longest-range own goal in European Championship history.

Luis Enrique's men responded well by equalising before half-time through Sarabia's powerful drive after Jose Gaya's shot was parried into his path by Livakovic.

Azpilicueta put Spain in front with his first international goal by getting in front of Josko Gvardiol and guiding Torres' cross past Livakovic from inside the six-yard box.

Spain gave themselves breathing space nine minutes later as Torres cut inside and clinically finished off a swift move.

With five minutes to go, though, Orsic followed up after a scramble in the box to help the ball over the line – the goal allowed to stand following a VAR check for handball inside the box.

Then came the dramatic leveller in added time, with Pasalic left in space inside the box to head in Orsic's cross and pave the way for an additional 30 minutes.

Croatia started the period of extra time on top and would have taken the lead if not for an incredible Simon stop to keep out Andrej Kramaric, but Morata took down Dani Olmo's cross at the back post and thumped past Livakovic four minutes later.

Super sub Olmo then provided the cross for fellow replacement Oyarzabal, who also hit the post in the final seconds, to tuck home the eighth goal of a sensational European Championship tie and confirm Spain's place in the last eight.

Watching Alvaro Morata toil at Euro 2020 has been almost tragic, with every miss seemingly guaranteed to invite some form of pile-on, whether on social media or from fans inside the stadium.

Rarely do footballers inspire feelings of sympathy, with fans perhaps generally forgetting that these entertainers performing for our satisfaction are humans too, carrying out a job like any other member of society.

Maybe it is the money they're paid that prevents certain individuals from feeling empathy for footballers, but surely even the most vociferous cheerleaders of "footballers' wages for soldiers" and other comparable arguments must have felt some kind of compassion for Morata at one time or another during this tournament.

Even before a ball was kicked, Morata was already a hot topic of conversation after he was widely jeered by the home crowd during Spain's 0-0 warm-up friendly draw with Portugal at the Wanda Metropolitano, the home of the club – Atletico Madrid – that owns him. Just 11 days later it was confirmed he would be spending another season on loan at Juventus rather than return.

While Spain as a collective were booed in that game, Morata certainly bore the brunt of it, the crowd making their opinions known after he had wasted four chances. One of those hit the crossbar, meaning he was literally a matter of inches away from winning the match and capping off an otherwise impressive individual performance with a goal.

It has been much the same story during the tournament. No matter how many of those associated with the squad – including Luis Enrique, Dani Olmo, Koke and Aymeric Laporte – publicly defend their colleague, it seems the boo-boys have their target and will not waver.

And the particularly sad aspect of it all is that Morata revealed in a recent interview that even his wife and children have been victims of the abuse when attending Spain's group games at La Cartuja.

But has Morata even been that bad at Euro 2020? Generally speaking, you would have to say no.

 

Now, there is undoubtedly an elephant in the room: his wasteful finishing. No one is going to try and convince you Morata has been effective in front of goal – after all, the data says the exact opposite as his one goal comes from an xG (expected goals) value of 2.9.

In fact, only his team-mate Gerard Moreno has a worse xG differential (2.1) in the group games at Euro 2020, so there's no getting away from the fact Morata has not been clinical enough. On top of that, Morata has missed more Opta-defined "big chances" (four) than any other player in the tournament.

This isn't a new phenomenon, though; since the start of 2017-18 only Lorenzo Insigne (7.8), Gabriel Jesus (9.85) and Edin Dzeko (16.85) have underperformed their xG by more than Morata (7.3) among forwards in the top five leagues (minimum 40 goals scored).

Additionally, among the same group of players since 2017-18, only Alassane Plea (70.3 per cent) has missed a greater proportion of his big chances than Morata (66.4 per cent).

But, intriguingly, no one had more shots on target during the group stage at Euro 2020 than Morata, his six from 11 attempts exactly the same as top-scorer Cristiano Ronaldo.

This suggests the problem is an age-old one with Morata: composure. So much of this part of the game comes down to mentality, and mental health is something Morata has commendably been open about for much of his career.

 

He previously spoke about how mental illnesses should be considered ailments much like physical injuries, and in 2018 he revealed he was seeing a psychologist while at Chelsea.

In that sense, if we consider the incessant abuse of him, Morata's arguably performing better than anyone could feasibly expect.

Now, that raises the question of whether Luis Enrique should have taken Morata out of the firing line before things reached this stage.

It surely cannot be conducive to positive mental health to have 16,000 people enthusiastically communicating that something doesn't impress them much, as if Morata was performing keepy-uppies on stage at a Shania Twain concert.

But the striker insisted last week that he has found himself motivated by the jeers, particularly prior to the penalty against Slovakia. Admittedly, he did miss it.

"I'm proud of the fact I picked up the ball [to take the penalty] after people booed me in the warm-up," he said. "A few years ago, I would have been devastated but I'm really motivated. Whoever thinks the opposite doesn't know me."

It's also worth considering that, while there have been problems with Morata in front of goal, he has otherwise been a positive influence on the team.

For example, Spain's six shot-ending high turnovers have only been bettered by four teams following all group fixtures, while Morata fits into that philosophy given the fact he has won possession in the final third three times – only Memphis Depay and Ronaldo (four each) managed more in the group stage among forwards.

Similarly, Morata brings bursts of positivity and drive to Spain once he gets on the ball, as demonstrated by the fact he has recorded eight progressive carries measuring between five and 10 metres. The only out-and-out strikers to do better in the group stages were Alexander Isak and Ronaldo.

It is also worth bearing in mind that Morata ranks in the top 10 for forwards involved in open-play sequences that end in a shot (12), while his 24 touches in the opposition's box ranked him second behind Kylian Mbappe (27) ahead of the knockout fixtures. Both statistics are further evidence that he has been actively involved in keeping Spain in the ascendancy.

 

Unfortunately for Morata, many will look no further than chances converted when evaluating a striker's performances, and in tournament football when the action is so condensed, conclusions are 100 times more reactionary. Just ask Harry Kane.

But as long as Luis Enrique retains faith and the opportunities keep coming, there remains the chance of a Hollywood-esque conclusion to the hard-on-his-luck tale that has seemed to epitomise the past few years of Morata's career.

In a 2006 biopic of stockbroker Chris Gardner's life, Will Smith portrays a man who has to overcome countless setbacks on his path to making a name for himself.

The script is written for Morata to become the decisive player in a victorious Euro 2020 campaign for Spain, giving him his own successful Pursuit of Happyness.

Spain boss Luis Enrique has described the abuse received by Alvaro Morata as a "crime" and says it should be a matter for the police. 

Morata has been the focus of attention since being jeered by his own fans during a pre-Euro 2020 friendly with Portugal after missing several opportunities.

He was then criticised for his displays in Spain's 0-0 draw with Sweden in their Group E opener and 1-1 draw with Poland, a game in which he scored but missed more chances.

The Juventus striker, whose loan from Atletico Madrid was extended for another season last week, then missed a penalty in Wednesday's 5-0 win against Slovakia, which saw Spain progress from their group in second place.

Morata revealed in an interview that he has received vicious messages on social media during the tournament, while his wife and children have also been targeted in public. 

Luis Enrique has repeatedly leapt to the defence of Morata for his performances and is expected to stick with the 28-year-old for the last-16 tie with Croatia on Monday. 

Speaking at a media conference, the Spain boss said: "The situation is so serious that it must be put in the hands of the police because it is a serious crime. 

"Insulting Morata's relatives is a crime and I hope it is corrected outright."

 

Spain will hope to end a run of falling at the first hurdle in the knockouts of a major tournament when they face Croatia.

After winning Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, La Roja were eliminated at this stage of both Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup.

Despite that, Luis Enrique said his side have no doubts about their ability to get past Croatia. 

"I have had the same confidence since the start of the Championship," he added.

"No team has surprised us. I thought we were going to be first in the group, but football is the result. But in terms of morale and dedication, we are at the max.

"We have not been there since 2012, but against Slovakia we had to win and now we have another final. I don't know if we are going to pass, but my team has no doubts. We are going to try to minimise the threat of the rival."

The match will be Croatia and Spain's third major tournament meeting, with both previous such clashes coming in European Championship group stages. Both sides won once each: Spain in 2012 and Croatia in 2016.

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