Two European and World giants Italy and Spain will on Monday meet in a repeat of UEFA EURO 2012 final for a place in the quarter final stage of the 2016 edition in France.
Italy lost to Ireland in a game that they could afford to lose, a defeat Antonio Conte almost invited by resting so many players. Spain went all-out to beat Croatia in their last match, took the lead, missed a penalty and then blew it at the end.
That loss condemned Vincente del Bosque’s men to second place in Group C and a harder run to the final than anyone could have expected. Their first forfeit is Italy before Germany and then probably France. So while Italy’s loss to Ireland was largely self-inflicted and fairly painless, this feels like a wounded Spain side that goes to the Stade de France today.
This has been a tournament so far in which passing football has not flourished, or at least when it has struggled to find its way past steady defence. That is why Croatia, the team of the group stage, fell to Portugal on Saturday night, a result that opened up their half of the draw to any side who can find the right balance.
Antonio Conte, Italy coach
“We have a great deal of respect for Spain: they are one of the best teams in the world and among the favourites to win UEFA EURO 2016. Even so, we’ve worked and prepared, and it’s a last-16 game which will have no tomorrow for one of us. We must not have any regrets.
“Everybody talks about defence, about being wary of all their players, but I say let’s make sure Spain are wary of what we do. There is organisation in our defence, but there is also organisation in our attack. We’ve got to try to pull off a shock.
“I don’t want to go home, the lads don’t want to go home. We’re not going to be sacrificial lambs – it is up to Spain to prove they are better than us.”
Vicente del Bosque, Spain coach
In the last European Championship, our first game was against Italy. They were better than us, but we drew and then we ended up beating none other than Italy in the final. We hardly changed anything in between those two matches, although coaches do obviously have to have a bit of flexibility so they can make changes at any given moment.
I think we’ve got a good idea about how we want to play in relation to the players we’ve called up, and now it’s about putting it into practice.
Italy possible XI: Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Florenzi, Parolo, De Rossi, Giaccherini, Darmian; Pellè, Éder.
Spain possible XI: De Gea; Juanfran, Piqué, Ramos, Alba; Busquets, Fàbregas; Silva, Iniesta, Nolito; Morata.