Tomorrow night we have the first of the two semi-finals of this summer’s European Championships as Italy and Spain meet at Wembley.
These two giants of European football will both be hoping to repeat their achievement of reaching the 2012 final, with Spain looking to lift the trophy again while Italy will want to go one further than they did that night in Kiev.
Now a match against either England or Denmark, who meet on Wednesday, awaits them, and here’s our preview of this huge encounter…
Predicted line ups
Italy: Donnarumma; Florenzi, Bonucci, Chiellini, Emerson; Barella, Jorginho, Verratti; Chiesa, Immobile, Insigne
Spain: Simon; Azpilicueta, Garcia, Laporte, Alba; Koke, Busquets, Pedri; Torres, Morata, Olmo
Italy – Marco Verratti
The man who makes Italy tick, this gem of a midfielder will need to be at the top of his game up against a quality Spain midfield, where Sergio Busquets will surely be trying to make life as difficult as possible for him. Italy might not have Andrea Pirlo’s influence and quality on the ball these days, but in Verratti they have pretty much the next best thing. The Azzuri’s forwards are undoubtedly dangerous, but they’ll need the service of this creative star – who has two assists to his name at Euro 2020 so far.
Spain – Ferran Torres
This is not the Spain of old, and they’ll be underdogs here, but in Ferran Torres they have someone in attack who can give them something a bit different. It can often look a little static in this Spain side, while Alvaro Morata is unreliable in front of goal, but Torres has shown his quality for Manchester City and for Spain at these Euros, so he could be the one that Luis Enrique’s side look to for inspiration here.
In the dugout
It’s not often these days that we see two genuinely big names in the managerial dugout for international clashes, but Luis Enrique and Roberto Mancini are undoubtedly giants of the game who have achieved a huge amount at club level.
We know all about Mancini from his time at Manchester City, where he won the Premier League title and got the team playing some superbly stylish football by putting together a great side built around that spine of Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, David Silva and Sergio Aguero.
Now, the 56-year-old has Italy on a remarkable run – he has a win percentage of 75.68% since taking charge of the national team, and this was no mean feat considering the poor state they were in just a few years ago. It’s still surreal to think that this great footballing nation didn’t qualify for the World Cup in 2018, but that’s just how bad things got before Mancini came in and brought back that famous Italian defensive nous, combined with plenty of pace and quality in attack.
Enrique is another big name, having achieved great success at Barcelona, though it’s not been quite as easy for him as Spain boss during this challenging period that has followed a remarkable Golden Era.
This crop of players is nowhere near the likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta that led Spain to three international tournament wins in a row, and they’ve rather scraped through to these semi-finals, even if they’re certainly not a team for Italy to take lightly.
In Enrique, they have a top manager who has dealt with big games, big tournaments, and world class players. It’s a big ask for him to mastermind this victory, but in many ways it feels like he’s their best hope.
Head to head record
Games played: 33
Spain wins: 12
Italy wins: 9
Spain edge it in their meetings overall, but in recent history they’ve been far more dominant, with Italy winning only twice in their last fourteen meetings in all competitions.
Italy should have it in them to edge this 2-1 and make it to the final.