Spain head coach Luis Enrique hailed the impact of newcomer Aymeric Laporte after his controversial allegiance switch ahead of Euro 2020.

Laporte is the only Spain defender to play every game at Euro 2020 and looms as a key figure in Tuesday's semi-final against Italy in London.

The France-born Manchester City centre-back only made his international debut last month after being granted Spanish nationality in May.

Laporte, who moved to Spain as a 16-year-old and came through the Athletic Bilbao system, had been capped at every under-age level by France and called up twice for the senior team in 2019 but never debuted for Les Bleus.

Luis Enrique and the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) pursued Laporte over the past three years, despite the player claiming it was "out of the question", eventually winning him over ahead of Euro 2020.

"As soon as he was able to play with us he began to do a huge amount for us," Luis Enrique said during Monday's news conference. "He's a top defender, both in the attacking and defensive phases.

"We obviously need our defenders to have composure in order to bring the ball out and pick out that free man in midfield.

"He is strong in the air, he can play with both feet, he is physically strong, he's quick, he's strong, as I've said, he is good at playing on the front foot, he is good with how he covers.

"He's a top defender and we are delighted that Aymeric has decided to play for Spain."

Laporte's inclusion in Spain's European Championship squad has arguably vindicated Luis Enrique's decision to exclude veteran captain Sergio Ramos.

Luis Enrique has a selection headache with Pablo Sarabia unlikely to be fit to face Italy due to a muscle injury, having started in the quarter-final penalty shoot-out win over Switzerland.

RB Leipzig's Dani Olmo replaced Sarabia at half-time against Switzerland and is a likely preferred option.

"They are all fit except Sarabia," Luis Enrique said. "Physically they are well and tiredness ends 45 minutes after finishing the quarter final game."

Luis Enrique's Spain bossed possession (73 per cent) against Switzerland but relied on penalties to advance to the last four, despite having 28 shots to eight.

Spain have reached the semi-finals of the European Championship for the third time in the past four editions of the competition (failing to do so in 2016). They have gone on to win the Euros 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 between 1955 and 1968, Spain have only suffered one defeat in their past five games there (W2 D2). However, they were knocked out of the Euros in 1996 at Wembley, losing to hosts England on penalties.

Luis Enrique was wary of Italy's desire for possession too, in a looming clash of styles.

"I think that's one of the main questions really," he said. "We are leaders in terms of possession stats but they are also a side that can use the ball and enjoy their football with the ball.

"I guess that's the first battle to win. I think that they are very good without the ball as well. They've shown that at times during the championship, but they are far more comfortable with the ball.

"Our objectives are clear. We need the ball, we want to have it. If we have to play a different game we'll adapt but of course we'd prefer to have possession."

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.

Italy coach Roberto Mancini is expecting a tough test from an "extraordinary" Spain side in the quarter-finals of Euro 2020.

The two teams go head to head at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday hoping to earn a place in the showpiece fixture of the tournament.

Spain have won just one of their five games en route to the last four in normal time – a group-stage victory over Slovakia that staved off the threat of an early exit.

But Italy have been altogether more convincing in winning each of their five outings without the need for extra time or penalties.

When it was put to him that many Italians believe their team is already in the final as a result of this strong form, Mancini replied: "I hope you get it right for once.

"It won't be easy. We need to put in a great performance. Spain are a top team, we are in the semi-finals, so it won't be easy.

"It will be a tough game, Spain are different from Belgium, but we will still face many difficulties.

 

"We suffered against Austria because of their aggressiveness and because it was the first game in the knockout stage.

"Spain have been extraordinary over the last few years, they have many young players and an excellent coach.

"Luis Enrique won the Champions League with Barcelona, but not only that. His Roma side played good football."

After scoring in Italy's opening two fixtures, Ciro Immobile has faced criticism for the two goalless games that have followed, particularly the quarter-final win over Belgium.

But Mancini has leapt to the defence of his striker, saying: "He is the Golden Boot, one of the best scorers of the last few years. 

"Sometimes the most criticised are the decisive ones during the Euros or the World Cup."

Leonardo Spinazzola has undergone a "perfectly successful" operation after he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon during Italy's Euro 2020 win over Belgium.

The Roma full-back had been one of the stars of the tournament, but his participation came to a painful end during a 2-1 quarter-final victory in Munich last Friday.

Spinazzola suffered cruciate ligament damage in May 2018 and has endured frequent fitness problems during his career, but the 28-year-old is ready to put in the hard yards on the road to recovery again after going under the knife.

He posted on Instagram: "Perfectly successful intervention. I thank everyone for being close to me, there were so many of you!

"Countdown started, see you soon."

 

Serie A side Roma have not put a timeframe on how long they expect Spinazzola to be out of action.

"The club can confirm that Leonardo Spinazzola underwent surgery on Monday to repair the Achilles tendon in his left leg, following the injury suffered during Italy's win over Belgium at Euro 2020 on July 2," the Giallorossi stated on their official website.

"The surgery, which was completed in Turku, Finland by Prof. Lasse Lempainen under the observation of the club's chief doctor Massimo Manara, was successfully completed.

"The player's condition and likely recovery period will continue to be assessed over the coming weeks."

Sergio Busquets expects this to be his last European Championship with Spain, but the midfielder has not decided when to end his international career.

Busquets lifted the World Cup in 2010 and played his part in La Roja's Euro 2012 triumph nine years ago.

The Barcelona player has another major trophy in his sights, with Spain taking on Italy in the semi-final of Euro 2020 at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday.

Spain captain Busquets has thought about his future with the national team at the age of 32 but says beating the Azzurri is the only thing on his mind for now.

He told AS: "You have to think about when to finish your cycle. What I have in mind is that this will be the last European Championship and then it depends. 

"You have to go step by step, I am no longer 20 years old. I feel very good, I am very comfortable in the group. 

"The coach always says that age does not matter, that as long as you are well he will have those who are better and those who make merit, later it will be seen. 

"At the moment I'm thinking about the semi-final with Italy, which is the important thing, then there's the Nations League in October and we'll see. 

"A year can be very long, I am very excited, but I am also responsible and I want the best for myself and for everyone."

 

Busquets says Spain are lucky to have Luis Enrique in charge of the national team.

"It is very difficult to reach the semi-finals," he added. "Football has evolved a lot and it is difficult to win any game because all the teams are very hard working, they have a very high level of scouting, of staff, individually the players are given a bonus in all aspects, mental, physical, nutritional.

"But I knew that Luis Enrique's work at this stage was very good. It is very difficult to see a top coach in a national team because normally such coaches are with a team during the day. 

"We are lucky and privileged to have Luis Enrique here. He is developing his idea, with his work group, with players that he believes in, with a very great ambition and that is reflected on the field."

Luka Doncic posted a triple-double to lead Slovenia to their first Olympics berth in men's basketball as European nations claimed the final four spots in the Tokyo 2020 field. 

Dallas Mavericks star Doncic had 31 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds as Slovenia defeated hosts Lithuania 96-85 in Kaunas on Sunday. 

In other qualifying tournament finals, Italy stunned Serbia 102-95, Germany defeated Brazil 75-64 and the Czech Republic downed Greece 97-72. 

With those countries headed to Tokyo later this month, the field is now set. 

Group A will consist of defending champions the United States, France, Iran and the Czech Republic, with Australia, Nigeria, Germany and Italy in Group B.

In Group C, hosts Japan will contend with Argentina, Spain and Slovenia. 

Doncic and Slovenia face a difficult group, as Spain won the bronze medal at Rio 2016 after a close loss to the USA in the semi-finals, but the 22-year-old was ecstatic after qualifying. 

"I don't care about the MVP," Doncic said. "We won here. We're going to the Olympics, the first time in our country.

"It's amazing. I think every kid dreams about being in the Olympics. I did too. So, here we are. We fought really, really hard, and I think we deserve to be here."

Italy's defeat of short-handed Serbia, who were missing NBA MVP Nikola Jokic, was the biggest upset of the final qualifying round. 

Serbia were beaten finalists against Team USA in the Rio 2016 gold medal game, while Italy are in the Olympics for the first time since taking silver in Athens in 2004. 

 

Cesar Azpilicueta says Spain must keep Lorenzo Insigne and Jorginho quiet if they are to overcome Italy in Tuesday's Euro 2020 semi-final.

Italy head into the showdown at Wembley as the most in-form side in Europe after going 32 matches without defeat and winning the last 13 of those.

The Azzurri saw off Turkey, Switzerland and Wales to top Group A, before beating Austria in extra time and Belgium inside 90 minutes, in the last 16 and quarter-finals respectively.

Forward Insigne started four of those five games, the exception being the final group match against Wales, while Jorginho has been an ever-present for Roberto Mancini's side.

Jorginho has completed the most passes (364) of any midfielder at Euro 2020 so far and is fourth in the list in terms of passes in the opposition half with 249, behind Koke (269), Toni Kroos (271) and Pedri (305).

He is a player Azpilicueta is familiar with, the pair having helped Chelsea to Champions League glory last season, and the defender knows the importance of shackling his club-mate.

"We have a chat set up with all the Chelsea players, but it will be good to see him on the pitch on Tuesday," Azpilicueta told Sky Sport Italia.

"This is football. Sometimes you play against your team-mates when representing your national side. We will both give it our all to helps our teams reach the final.

"He is of course a great player both for Chelsea and Italy. It is important we limit his involvement. He likes to have the ball and control the game. He is a very intelligent player.

"The better we are at keeping him quiet, the more chance we have of controlling the game."

 

While Jorginho has provided an assured presence in the engine room for a much-fancied Italy side, Insigne has been receiving plenty of plaudits for his performances up top.

The Napoli forward was on target for Italy in their opening match and curled in one of the goals of the tournament in the 2-1 win over Belgium in Friday's quarter-final.

He has been involved in 13 goals in his last 15 games for Italy in all competitions – six goals and seven assists – and netted 19 goals in 35 Serie A appearances last season.

"He is not someone I know personally, but on the pitch he is very dangerous," Azpilicueta added. "He is a great player, very technical and fast.

"He always looks to work a one-on-one and is constantly communicating with his team-mates. We will have to defend as a team and attack as a team. We are aware of the strength of Italy's attackers."

Spain's performances have not been as consistent as Italy's, having drawn their opening two group matches before advancing in second place with a 5-0 win over Slovakia.

La Roja then held off Croatia 5-3 after extra time, becoming the first side in European Championship history to score five or more goals in consecutive games, and penalties were required to overcome Switzerland last time out.

However, Italy have beaten Spain only twice in their last 15 meetings in all competitions and lost 4-0 when the sides met in the Euro 2012 final in Kiev.

Azpilicueta has started Spain's last three games and is focusing on the positives ahead of Tuesday's clash in London.

"We did not start well in terms of results, but on the field we have always managed to dominate and control matches," he said.

Elaine Thompson-Herah, Nigel Ellis and Rasheed Broadbell were among the winners at the XXXII International Meeting of Athletics in Lignano, Italy on Saturday.

Spain greats Xavi and Andres Iniesta are inspirational figures for Italy's Nicolo Barella, although the Azzurri midfielder does not try to replicate their skill sets.

Barcelona legends Xavi and Iniesta formed a key part of the Spain side that won Euro 2008 and Euro 2012 – in which they thrashed Italy in the final – either side of lifting the 2010 World Cup.

While the Barca duo were more renowned for their creativity than goalscoring exploits, albeit Iniesta got the crucial strike in Spain's World Cup triumph in South Africa, Barella has established himself as a real goal threat for both Inter and Italy.

Indeed, the former Cagliari man opened the scoring in Italy's 2-1 quarter-final win over Belgium with a fantastic finish, teed up by some excellent footwork.

And while Barella is inspired by the Spain greats of the past, he finds it hard to compare his own game with theirs. 

"They had great champions who inspired everyone, like Xavi and Iniesta," Barella told a news conference. 

"It's easy to say that we were inspired, but all those who love football are. I have different characteristics, seeing me in them is difficult.

"The Spain side that won the Euros in 2012 had an incredible midfield. There were amazing champions there, here there are great players, but we hope we can reach their level and possibly do even better."

Italy inflicted a 2-0 defeat in the last 16 of Euro 2016 to gain revenge for their 4-0 loss in Kyiv nine years ago, and a final against either England or Denmark is the prize for the victor at Wembley on Tuesday.

"[Sergio] Busquets has been one of the best midfielders in the world for many years," Barella continued.

"Then they have Pedri and Koke. It will be a nice game, we'll try to beat their midfield and beat Spain.

"It will be a tough game, we are similar as we both want to dominate the possession. I hope it will be a nice game, we want to enjoy it in a fantastic stadium."

Italy did suffer a blow in the win over Belgium, with influential left-back Leonardo Spinazzola suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon.

"It was strange not to celebrate because one of my team-mates had suffered a serious injury," Barella said when asked about Spinazzola, who has travelled to Finland for surgery.

"It was the first time I didn't celebrate a win at the end of the game, all we can do is to make Spinazzola proud and celebrate for him."

Only three defenders – Andrew Robertson (nine), David Alaba (10) and Jordi Alba (11) – have created more chances than Spinazzola (eight) so far at Euro 2020, though Barella is confident that Chelsea's Emerson, who is set to replace the stricken Roma full-back, will prove an able deputy.

"Emerson and Spina have different characteristics, they are two great players and nobody is worried," he said.

"[Emerson] won the Champions League and he will help us as he's always done. He's played many games for us and we all trust him."

Spain's confidence in their own ability never wavered despite initial criticism of their performances at Euro 2020, according to Mikel Oyarzabal.

Real Sociedad winger Oyarzabal scored the crucial spot-kick as Spain beat Switzerland 3-1 on penalties after a 1-1 draw in Saint Petersburg to progress to the semi-finals.

Luis Enrique's side became the first team in European Championship history to score five or more goals in consecutive games after wins over Croatia and Slovakia. Indeed, Spain had not scored more than four goals in any of their first 42 matches in the competition.

However, their goal rush came after successive draws with Sweden (0-0) and Poland (1-1) in the group stage, and their profligacy returned on Friday when they managed 28 shots across 120 minutes, though only had the one goal to show for it.

Spain amassed 29 attempts across their opening two games, with 10 going on target, and though their quality was called into question, Oyarzabal insisted the squad always kept faith.

"Whether you have been unfair or not it is your point. We had plenty of confidence in this solid squad since the beginning," the 24-year-old said at a news conference ahead of the last-four clash with Italy at Wembley.

"We are together and it is a high-level squad. We were confident of doing great in this Euros and so we've shown it. Obviously, people are free to make their opinion, but we have never had any doubts. We have always had confidence in the current squad and we still have it."

While Spain have fired hot and cold, they have nevertheless scored 12 goals so far at the tournament, with Denmark and Italy (both on 11) their closest rivals in that regard.

 

The Azzurri have been one of the most consistent teams and surely dispelled any doubts over their credentials with a fantastic performance against Belgium on Friday.

First-half goals from Nicolo Barella and Lorenzo Insigne ultimately ensured progression, with Romelu Lukaku's penalty unable to inspire a Belgium fightback.

"It is going to be a very tough game. Italy has shown a high level," Oyarzabal said of Tuesday's showdown.

"I think they reach the semi-finals in a good shape, but we do too. I believe if we do the right things and we are efficient, we will have better chances to win. The most important thing is to be ourselves. Keep playing as we have done so far because I think we have played great games and we need to have confidence in ourselves.

"They are a great national team with top players, but I don't think we are lesser. We need to be confident. We can play a great game whoever our rival is. We are full of confidence in our plan and in what we will do."

Italy full-back Leonardo Spinazzola has set his sights on the quickest recovery possible after a ruptured Achilles tendon ended his Euro 2020.

Spinazzola had been one of the standout performers in the tournament and made a vital goal-line block to deny Romelu Lukaku during the Azzurri's thrilling 2-1 quarter-final win over Belgium in Munich.

But the Roma defender, who suffered cruciate ligament damage in May 2018 and has endured frequent fitness problems during his career, will miss the semi-final meeting with Spain after pulling up before full-time and needing a stretcher to leave the field.

Italy's Twitter account shared a video of Spinazzola's team-mates serenading him on their flight home and the 28-year-old tapped into that positive attitude in an Instagram post.

"Unfortunately we all know how it went but our  dream continues and with this great group nothing is impossible," he wrote.

"I can only tell you that I will be back soon!"

Italy boss Roberto Mancini began his post-match news conference by offering his sympathy to player who made himself vital to Italy's bid for glory.

"We are very disappointed and gutted for Spinazzola for that injury he didn't deserve because he was playing extraordinarily well," he said.

"He's been one of the best players at Euro 2020 and we are absolutely gutted."

 

Spinazzola recovered possession 23 times in the tournament, more than any other Italy defender.

But it was in attack where he gave Mancini's fluent side an extra dimension.

His seven chances created from open play are the joint-second best in the Azzurri squad, alongside Domenico Berardi and behind Marco Verratti (10).

Matteo Pessina and Spinazzola each average 14 metres per carry with the ball, with the latter out in front on progressive carries (9.5m) – instances of a player moving the ball vertically up the field.

Six of Spinazzola's dribbles ended in a shot, another squad best, and likely deputy Emerson will have considerable shoes to fill when Italy and Spain meet at Wembley on Tuesday.

Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez refused to comment on his future after the country's Euro 2020 elimination at the hands of Italy, insisting the situation is "too raw".

Italy booked their spot in the semi-finals against Spain after overcoming Martinez's Belgium 2-1 in Munich on Friday.

Nicolo Barella and Lorenzo Insigne put Italy two goals ahead by the 44th minute, but Belgium pulled one back before the interval courtesy of a Romelu Lukaku penalty. 

Despite going close, Belgium – one of the pre-tournament favourites – were unable to find an equaliser against red-hot Italy as the Red Devils lost in the quarter-finals of the European Championship like they did in 2016.

Attention swiftly turned to Martinez, who is contracted through to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar but has been linked with a return to club management.

"Well, obviously, this is a moment that is very, very difficult to speak anything else than the defeat and that we are out of the Euros," Martinez said. "As I say, at the moment, it's still too raw. And I do not want to say anything that it could be [seen as] emotional.

"At the moment, all I want to do is look back into this tournament and I would say that the players have done nothing wrong. It is the opposite.

"They did everything they could to get us as far as we can [at Euro 2020]. And now is the time to analyse and to assess. But, at the moment, the feelings of disappointment and sadness, unfortunately, is what is in my head now."

Belgium have faced Italy more times at major international tournaments (World Cup and Euros) without winning than any other side (five).

No Belgium player has scored more goals than Lukaku at either the European Championship (six) or the World Cup (five, level with Marc Wilmots).

Lukaku has scored 24 goals in his last 23 appearances for Belgium, including 22 in his last 19 competitive internationals.

"The feelings are what you can imagine, really - sadness and disappointment - because I do not think these players deserve to be out of this tournament," said Martinez. "They have done an incredible job to be prepared to be ready to go step-by-step every day, from the beginning of the tournament. And unfortunately, today [Friday], we faced a very good side [Italy]. I thought it was two very good teams in this knockout phase. And, unfortunately, the margins did not go in our favour."

Belgium star Kevin De Bruyne played despite carrying an ankle knock, though captain Eden Hazard watched from the stands due to a hamstring injury.

"The situation with Axel [Witsel] and Kevin [De Bruyne] and Eden [Hazard] going into the tournament, I think we managed it very, very well and you could see the attitude of those players," Martinez added. "They started to grow into the tournament and they have been a real bonus. They really helped us from the moment that they could be on the pitch.

"Obviously, injuries happen and it is unfortunate that Eden could not be on the pitch with us [against Italy]. But it was exemplary to see Kevin De Bruyne getting through whatever he would, to get 90 minutes with his national team and showing that he was ready to help the group.

"So, I think, for every 'Red Devil' fan, there is a real pride and understanding that these players did everything they could to try to get what we wanted to get. And unfortunately today, we faced a very good team [Italy] and, with two good teams, the small margins went for them. And that is a small difference and that happens in football."

Roberto Mancini described his Italy players as "extraordinary" after they booked a Euro 2020 semi-final spot with a 2-1 win over Belgium in Munich on Friday. 

Nicolo Barella and Lorenzo Insigne put the Azzurri two goals ahead by the 44th minute, but Belgium pulled one back before the interval courtesy of a Romelu Lukaku penalty. 

The Azzurri held on to extend their unbeaten run to 32 games, however, and will now play Spain at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday after Luis Enrique's side overcame Switzerland on penalties earlier in the day.

Italy have now reached the semi-finals of a major tournament for the 12th time – the only European nation to do so more is Germany (20 times).

The result also meant Mancini became only the second coach in European Championship history to win each of his first five matches in the competition finals after Michel Hidalgo, who won all five of his matches in charge of France at the 1984 edition.

"We deserved the victory," Mancini told RAI Sport. "The lads were extraordinary, and clearly we suffered in the last 10 minutes as we were really tired, but we could've scored more goals earlier.

"I didn't see 25 minutes of struggle at the start. There were chances at both ends, it was an open game. We only struggled in the last 10 minutes when Belgium started playing a long ball game.

"We had no minimum target. We just wanted to do our best. There are still two games to go, we'll see what happens.

"Let us enjoy this victory, then we can think about Spain. Congratulations to the lads, they did a great job."

 

Central to Italy's success was the colossal defensive display by Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci. 

No player on the pitch made more clearances than Chiellini's six, while the pair helped reduce the Red Devils to just a solitary shot on target in the second period. 

Bonucci expects a tough game against Spain but urged his team-mates to be ready to go into battle. 

"Now we can keep dreaming with our feet on the ground," he said. "Spain are a great team, but we started this tournament with a dream in our hearts; let's keep it there until the end.

"There are two matches to go, the most difficult will be against Spain, who play similar to Belgium. They again looked as if they might not make it, but they got back on their feet, so it'll be a battle to the end."

The one sour note for Italy was the late injury suffered by Leonardo Spinazzola, with reports in Italy after the game suggesting he had ruptured his Achilles tendon.

"Leonardo had a great Euros, whoever replaces him will do just as well," Bonucci added.

After two engrossing games on Friday, we have our first Euro 2020 semi-finalists.

Spain ended a nine-year wait for a place in the final four of a major tournament, but they had to do it the hard way once again, with penalties needed to defeat Switzerland after a draw in Saint Petersburg.

Then came arguably the finest match of the tournament to date, Italy prevailing against Belgium to set a new record for consecutive wins in this competition and continue their remarkable form under Roberto Mancini.

Here are some of the key data takeaways from day one of the quarter-finals...

 

Switzerland 1-1 Spain (aet, 1-3 pens): Luis Enrique's men are the Euros shoot-out kings

Switzerland's previous three European Championship knockout games had gone to penalties (against Poland in 2016 and France this year), so perhaps we should have expected another shoot-out here.

Things certainly looked to be under Spain's control when Denis Zakaria, in for the suspended Granit Xhaka, scored the 10th own goal of Euro 2020 – that's more than were seen in the previous 15 championships combined (nine). Three of those have now gone in Spain's favour: they got two against Slovakia in the group stage.

Xherdan Shaqiri steered in Remo Freuler's pass to become his country's leading Euros goalscorer with four – he has as many goals (three) in his most recent three games as he did in his previous 31 – as Switzerland responded well in the second half. Then came a crucial moment: a heavy challenge from Freuler, and a red card flashed his way. It made the Atalanta midfielder the sixth person to be sent off at these finals and Switzerland only the third side in the competition's history to score an own goal and have a player dismissed in the same game, after Poland (against Slovakia this year) and Czechoslovakia against the Netherlands in 1976.

Still, Switzerland stood firm. Yann Sommer produced 10 saves, the most by a goalkeeper in a knockout match who did not suffer defeat during normal or extra time since Ivo Viktor for Czechoslovakia, again in 1976. Spain fired in 28 shots in total, with substitutes Dani Olmo and Gerard Moreno attempting six each. They have struck the most shots of anyone at these finals without scoring (Olmo 16, Gerard 15).

Yet Sommer's heroics were not enough in the shoot-out, Ruben Vargas' miss allowing Mikel Oyarzabal to ensure Spain progressed from penalties in a Euros match for the fourth time, more than any other nation. One of those came against Italy in 2008, and another against Portugal in 2012 – each time, La Roja went on to lift the trophy...


 

Belgium 1-2 Italy: Azzurri clinch Euros record against favourite foes

Italy stretched their record unbeaten run to 32 matches and 13 consecutive victories to see off Belgium and reach the semi-finals of a major tournament for the 12th time, a tally only bettered among European sides by Germany (20).

Perhaps more impressively, Italy have now won each of their past 15 games at the Euros (including qualifying), which is a competition record. Had Belgium claimed victory, they would have reached that tally themselves.

Roberto Martinez's side might be the top-ranked in the world, but they have now faced the Azzurri five times at the Euros and World Cup without winning, more than they have against any other side. They may have feared this result was coming.

Nicolo Barella opened the scoring with his sixth goal in 27 international games – only one fewer than he has managed in his past 116 club matches – before Lorenzo Insigne swept home a quite stunning second. Romelu Lukaku got a goal back after the impressive Jeremy Doku had become the first teenager to win a Euros spot-kick since Wayne Rooney in 2004.

Lukaku had a couple of chances for another in the second half, but he could not quite muster what would have been a 23rd goal in his most recent 19 competitive internationals, as Roberto Mancini celebrated becoming just the second coach in Euros history to win each of his first five games in the finals after Michel Hidalgo in 1984.

Italy's resolute defending in the second half was built on the partnership of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, whose guile helped the Azzurri over the line. This was something of a showcase for experienced stoppers: the five starting centre-backs – Chiellini (36), Bonucci (34), Thomas Vermaelen (35), Jan Vertonghen (34) and Toby Alderweireld (32) – averaged an age of 34 years and 234 days.

 

As impressive as Italy were at Euro 2020 before Friday, much of that praise had been tempered – rightly or wrongly – by scepticism from some, with those suggesting their opponents to this point. and throughout their unbeaten run, had been sub-optimal.

It seemed a largely harsh assessment given they are playing at a major international tournament, though the unconvincing nature of their 2-1 extra-time win over Austria did bring with it a hint of doubt.

Regardless of whether or not the sceptics had been correct about Italy, Belgium – the number-one ranked nation in the world – were always bound to leave fans and pundits alike with perhaps a better appraisal of just how good the Azzurri are.

After all, there had been plenty of evidence to suggest Belgium had almost been the antithesis of Roberto Mancini's team in Euro 2020. While Italy had the most efforts on goal of any team at Euro 2020 (87, Belgium had 38) prior to the quarter-finals, Belgium were one of only two teams to face 20 shots in two matches along with Turkey, yet they had only conceded once.

But in Munich on Friday there only ever looked like being one winner, with Roberto Martinez's Belgium eventually running out of luck at the hand of a side that will take some beating, the Italians winning 2-1.

At least the pragmatism Belgium seemed to employ against Denmark and Portugal – when they only managed six shots per game – was less prominent here, as they reached that total by half-time.

But were it not for a fortuitous penalty just before the interval, a spot-kick converted by Romelu Lukaku, they would have been 2-0 down at the break.

Where Italy had perhaps lacked fluency against Austria, they were intensely impressive here – their ability to play straight through Belgium thanks to their exceptional ball-players in midfield was coupled with their desire to win the ball back, routinely having two men putting the pressure on.

Their press resulted in a tournament-high (joint with the Netherlands) two goals from high turnovers before the quarter-finals and a similar scenario led to the opener here, Verratti cutting out Thomas Vermaelen's pass out from the back and finding Nicolo Barella, who brilliantly held off a tackle before firing past Thibaut Courtois.

 

The Real Madrid goalkeeper's form had undoubtedly played a role in Belgium's progress as well, given his 1.7 goals prevented was the third-best in the tournament prior to Friday, though even he could do little to prevent Lorenzo Insigne's gorgeous 25-yard effort finding the top-right corner to make it 2-0.

Italy's approach after the interval seemed to relate more around keeping the ball, firmly aware that the less time Belgium had in possession the less likely they were to draw level. In the 24 minutes that followed half-time, the Azzurri's share of possession was 70 per cent, compared to 54 per cent in the first half.

That's not to say Belgium didn't trouble them. When attacking at pace they caused Italy some issues – Jeremy Doku beat Giovanni Di Lorenzo and played a teasing ball right across goal, but Lukaku somehow failed to net, with Leonardo Spinazzola making a vital block.

Then Dries Mertens darted through the middle and played Nacer Chadli into the same channel of the box, with his eventual delivery being deflected over Lukaku and agonisingly behind Thorgan Hazard.

But Belgium got to the quarter-finals mostly down to moments of individual quality, as highlighted by the fact their eight goals scored was way above their xG tally of 4.1, which was the lowest of the eight teams remaining.

And while Doku was a nuisance with this tendency to dribble, Belgium had little else to throw at Italy as it almost became Lukaku or bust. Their form had seemingly been unsustainable and their luck ran out in Munich.

 

Even if Eden Hazard had been fit, given his form over the past two years it is difficult to see how things would have been any different with him on instead of Doku.

Kevin De Bruyne was passed fit and his three key passes were more than anyone else in a Belgium shirt, but it would be fair to suggest he hardly filled the same talismanic role he has become accustomed to at Manchester City. While you have to take playing styles into consideration, he averaged 81 touches per game in 2020-21, but only 51 on Friday.

His average for Euro 2020 had been 74.1 per 90 minutes. Perhaps there was an element of Belgium playing him out of desperation without him being completely fit.

Either way, Italy's first-half intensity was what set the tone for their victory, yet it was their well-rounded nature as a team that saw them get the job done – the fact they still had more shots than Belgium despite already having the lead and playing with less attacking urgency being the case in point here.

For many, Euro 2020 was seen as the final chance for Belgium's so-called 'Golden Generation' to truly leave their mark on the international stage, with a title eluding them.

But they leave the competition after getting very few people excited, with Italy making something of a statement to those who until Friday had dismissed them as flat-track bullies.

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