Italy and Spain were perhaps expected to reach the semi-finals, but they got here in different fashion. Italy has had a solid run with excellent football and is generally regarded as the favourite to win the tournament. They are the only team in the competition to have won all their matches. The Azzurri outclassed Belgium in their quarter-finals to much regret of the Red Devils and the entire nation; their golden generation will look back at another missed opportunity.
Spain’s run up to the semi-finals has been less than smooth. They started the competition with two draws against Sweden and Poland, they needed extra time against Croatia, and penalties before sending the Swiss guards back into the Alps. The Swiss who played for 45 minutes with 10 men had the upper hand at the start of the penalty series, but missed the last three penalties in a row. Spain’s only easy win was the 5-0 against world number 36, Slovakia.
Although Italy has had the most attempts on goal so far, Spain is the top scoring team in the competition with 12 goals, just one more than Italy. Spain, in true tiki-taka fashion, is also leading the table in ball possession and passing accuracy. The Azzurri however have only conceded two goals, three less than Spain.
Both teams are coached by football legends, but Roberto Mancini has more international managerial experience than Luis Enrique, having managed clubs in Italy, England, Russia and Turkey. Both coaches have put together diverse teams, with players from a range of clubs, and moulded them into united teams. Before the tournament, Spain was hit by a mini Covid pandemic in their selection which might have brought them closer together. The Italians, as always, seem to be a very tight squad; they always play for their team and country; not many egos to manage.
What probably needs managing is their theatrical behaviour. The Belgians were visibly frustrated with the Italian schwalbes, dives and dying swans. It is what makes them less sympathetic. It also seems so unnecessary; they can rely on a world-class defence with experienced Juventus defenders Chiellini (36) and Bonucci (34).
Unfortunately for Italy, they will have to miss one of their best players of the tournament, Spinazzola, who left the Belgian match with an injury. However, this too might add to their team spirit.
Wembley can expect a true clash tonight between the two most attacking teams in the competition. Can the Gladiators continue their faultless campaign and hold the line against their Mediterranean rivals, or will the Matadors wear the Italians down with their possession and attacking force?
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