Forget the minnows. The unfancied Italians are arguably the top surprise of Euro 2016. in the first of Monday’s round of 16 matches, they made Spain look over the hill, beating the defending champs 2-0.
It was the sort of match between big footballing nations many fans would have liked to see in a later stage of the tournament. But with Spain having only finished second in their qualifying group, they were forced to take on an opponent whose defense had proved as uncompromising as the best Italian teams of yesteryear.
The Spaniards were nonetheless the favorites on a rainy evening in Paris – perhaps because they had dispatched Italy 4-0 to win the tournament four years earlier. But the Italians were the better team at the start, with Graziano Pelle outjumping Sergi Busquets on a free kick and drawing a save from David de Gea in minute 8.
Spain’s famed tiki-taka was nowhere to be seen. Indeed, the defending European champions struggled just to gain control of the ball against the surprisingly attack-minded Italians.
Spain gradually found their way into the match but failed to pressure Gianluigi Buffon’s goal. The offensive midfield of Cesc Fabregas (29 years old), Andres Iniesta (32) and David Silva (30) in particular looked past its sell-by date. A furia roja this was not – Spain were cowed and wan.
Italian looked far more determined and took the lead in minute 32. De Gea failed to punch away a Citadin Eder free kick from 22 meters out, and central defender Giorgio Chiellini bundled home the rebound.
And Emanuele Giaccherini could have doubled the Azzurris’ advantage just before the break but de Gea managed to keep the score at 1-0.
No last minute rescue
Spaniard began the second half more aggressively, forcing Italy to substitute defensively, but it was again the Azzurri with the better early chance. In minute 54, Eder was sent through for a one on one against De Gea. But the forward thumped the ball directly at the keeper’s thigh.
Spain’s was able to turn up the heat when coach Vicente del Bosque introduced 24-year-old Lukas Vazuez with twenty minutes left. The Real Madrid reserve immediately injected some life into Spain attack, and Buffon was forced to make two saves in minute 77.
Spain had to depend on luck for an equalizer, and they almost got it with a minute remaining, when a long goal kick made its way to Gerard Piqué. But Buffon was able to block his shot from close range.
And Spain put the game to bed in added time. With the Spanish defense pushed forward, Matteo Darmian directed the ball to Pelle, who secured a 2-0 win for Italy.
Spain’s dominance of international football is now well and truly over. Italy got revenge for 2012 and move on to face Germany, one of their favorite opponents, in the quarterfinals.