Spain had already exceeded expectations by reaching the semi-finals of the delayed Euro 2020, but their performance in the last four against arguably the tournament favourites, was one that the millions of viewers across the globe that tuned in on Tuesday evening, wouldn’t have seen coming.
Spain deserved to win.
Euro 2020 Match Report: Spain 1-1 Italy (Italy win 4-2 on pens)
Prior to the game, in one of Lucho’s press conferences, he was asked how the dressing room was feeling coming into the Mediterranean derby that would decide the first finalist for this year’s championships, and in true Luis Enrique fashion, he responded with “You’ll see in a few months because a documentary will be coming out”.
Along with winding up the media, Luis Enrique was at the wrong end of an immense amount of criticism, with one of the main reasons for this being his team selection. Once again, he confused many by omitting Alvaro Morata for Mikel Oyarzabal in order to aid a false-9 setup in the Semi-Final. As it turned out, Dani Olmo would be that false-9, Oyarzabal would patrol the right and Ferran Torres was given the left.
? ¡ONCE GUERREROS DISPUESTOS A HACER HISTORIA!
?? Toda España está con vosotros, chicos.
— Selección Española de Fútbol (@SeFutbol) July 6, 2021
The Azzurri were quick out of the blocks, with Barella hitting the post despite being offside and many Italian forwards flying forward with energy and pace, but Spain were able to weather the storm and maintain their traditional patience, even against a tough opponent like Italy.
Rolling back the years, Sergio Busquets was able to dictate the play with ease for about 20 minutes as the Italian midfield didn’t know with who, when and how he should be approached. Eventually, Barella was assigned the duty of trying to make life difficult for the experienced midfielder, which left Joringho desperately trying not to allow Pedri any time on the ball.
Subsequently, the false-9, Olmo, was persistently dropping into the space vacated by Jorginho and he saw a lot of the ball, picking it up deep and driving at defenders with confidence and also threading passes out to his more advanced wide-men.
Oyarzabal had a chance after a gorgeous Barcelona link-up between Busquets and Pedri, but he couldn’t sort his feet out in time to even attempt converting his first golden opportunity of the night. It was a fairly quiet half in terms of chances, but for large periods it was end to end; and going into the break, both teams knew that another gear had to be found.
Pedri completed 31/31 passes in the first half vs. Italy — Sergio Busquets was the only midfielder to complete more [35/38].
Such a special talent. ?? pic.twitter.com/XM3mx77pjR
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) July 6, 2021
Busquets opened the Second Half with a yellow card down to an accumulation of little fouls, but soon afer he would have a decent chance. This was a sign of things to come as Olmo continued to look threatening and Spain continued to be largely on top.
However La Roja were stunned when Federico Chiesa wrapped his foot around the gleaming, chrome match ball and guided it beyond Simón. It was on the break, Alba had produced a poor cross that landed in the hands of Donnarumma, who quickly distributed it to a teammate and in the blink of an eye, Chiesa darted the length of the pitch to receive it and tuck it into the back of the net.
Half an hour remained.
Morata replaced Ferran immediately following the goal, but it would be Oyarzabal to temporarily grab a hold of the headlines with a terrible miss. The ball was floated into him at a perfect height and velocity. There was nobody around him, but the Real Sociedad man was unable to even make contact with it. He didn’t even have to jump.
Chances, chances, and more chances for Spain.
Italy continued to play on the break and almost added a second but it was Morata, of course it had to be him, who was able to finally shatter the forceful Italian barricade in front of their net. The Juventus forward picked the ball up with his back to goal, about 40 yards out, span and drove towards Gianluigi Donnarumma’s goal.
A slick one-two between him and Olmo completely pierced the defensive shape of Italy and Morata was able to wrong-foot the keeper, which spurred a relieved celebration from his personal self and the entirety of the Spanish audience.
Full-time, 1-1, a third consecutive Extra-time experience for La Roja.
Extra-time was vapid by comparison, with the only significant events being the substitutes, Thiago for Busquets and Pau Torres for Eric García. Gerard Moreno and Rodri had already replaced Koke and Oyarzabal by this point.
In Extra-time, Italy were able to better dilute Spain’s tempo with tactical fouls combined with the frequent stopping and starting, which led to more penalties for Spain, following the tension of the shootout against the Swiss in the previous round.
Locatelli was first denied by the gloves of Simón.
However Olmo, after his wonderful performance on the night, could only blast the ball into the stands.
Belotti scores, slotting it into the bottom-left.
Gerard Moreno, again, thumps the ball into the top-right.
Bonucci slides it into the bottom-right.
Thiago responds by stroking it fashionably into the bottom-left.
Bernardeschi destroys the top-right.
Morata then broke Spanish hearts by guiding the ball into the palms of Donnarumma.
The final blow was inflicted by Jorginho, who skipped to the spot and rolled the ball into the bottom-right, sending poor Simón in the opposite direction.
That was it, Spain were out. Yet as I mentioned, Lucho has done an exceptional job considering what he has had at his disposal, the extremely problematic medical events prior to the tournament and the criticism that he, and his team received off the back of every game and every decision.
Getting to a tournament semi-final and losing on penalties to one of the world’s best teams is nothing to be ashamed of, but instead, possibly starts an entire new dynasty, new chapter, new project, and new future for Spanish football’s selección.