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Italy Advance to the Final

Italy face Spain at Wembley in the Semi Final of Euro 2020. The two European heavy weights have rebounded brilliantly to reach the semi final stage. Spain were knocked out by Russia in the 2018 world cup on penalties in the round of 16 – while Italy failed to quality after Sweden prevented their progression in the all important qualifying game.

LONDON, ENGLAND – JULY 06: Players of Italy celebrate following their team"s victory in the penalty shoot out after the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Semi-final match between Italy and Spain at Wembley Stadium on July 06, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

Importance of the managers:

The quick revival to the top has a lot to do with the two managers; Mancini & Enrique. International football is often not taken seriously enough in regards to having top quality managers, but these two are an exception. Mancini was the man to elevate City to that next level – winning them a league title.

The Italian operates in a 4-3-3, using wing overloads, sustained pressure, third man runs for an extra man in the box (as seen vs Turkey with Locatelli goal, Barella vs Belgium), keeping the ball & playing a high press game with a high line. Italy use in a sitter in Jorginho to control the game, providing defensive protection. Italy"s system & player personnel was discussed more specifically in my article of Belgium vs Italy – analysing the versatility of Italy"s midfield.

Spain play the same 4-3-3 which shows how important the midfield battle will be in this game. Spain play a very high possession game – slightly reminiscent of Pep"s Man City. A good high pressing scheme and most importantly an interesting profile of attack. Morata has been a favourite of Enrique. His all round game has been superb, bar when it comes to end product.

A player like Morata or playing with an unrecognised striker creates confusion for the opposition. Chiellini & Bonucci get caught in two minds about whether to overcommit & leave space in behind or to allow Morata to have the ball – either of which a bad idea. This also affects any man to man marking.

Another key player to look out for is 18-year-old starlet Pedri. The Spaniard has without a doubt been one of the best performers in the Euros. After a brilliant season with Barca, he is showing exactly why he is the real deal. With 5.98 progressive passes per 90, 25.09 pressures per 90 & 6.32 carries per 90, Pedri is an all rounded gem who"s ceiling is endless. Another La Masia product who will without a doubt be up there with the worlds best. Stats from fbref.com.

One important factor to note is Spain have played extra time twice in a row – an extra 60 minutes of football for players to get through – while Italy have only had one game going to extra time. This could play a part in the result as even with a rotated squad, after playing full seasons at club level, additional minutes at international level will only hinder the level players can play at – particularly if this game wasn"t decided in 90 minutes.

Team news:

Italy made one change and a forced one from Italy"s triumph over Belgium. Spinazzola pulls out after tearing his achilles tendon. A massive loss for Italy, as Emerson of Chelsea gets the chance to prove himself on the biggest of stages.

LONDON, ENGLAND – JULY 06: Players of Italy sing the national anthem prior to the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Semi-final match between Italy and Spain at Wembley Stadium on July 06, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

Oyarzabal replaced Morata for Spain, Eric Garcia comes in for Pau Torres. Playing without a recognised striker proved interesting to see how Italy cope with the constant movement.

LONDON, ENGLAND – JULY 06: Players of Spain watch the penalty shoot out from the half way line during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Semi-final match between Italy and Spain at Wembley Stadium on July 06, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Frank Augstein – Pool/Getty Images)

1st half overview:

A very tight half of football with little to separate. Italy had the counter attacks, but Spain dominated most of the ball. Emerson had a shot which just went wide, while Dani Olmo had a shot well saved by Donnarumma. Pedri & Busquets were very much standout for Spain.

The longball in behind for Italy was always on – due to the lack of commanding figure at the back. The pressing of Spain was an issue for Italy – as Donnarumma gave the ball away on a few occasions. Spain did a great job of maintaining the ball & freezing out the likes of Barella – and mostly definitely winning the midfield battle – but these games are judged off fine margins – one of those being Oyarzabal"s poor touch which easily could"ve led to a goal.

2nd half overview:

The game followed the same sort of pattern. Spain dominated a lot of the play while Italy stuck to their counter attacking game. A ball which started with the keeper, eventually landed at Chiesa"s feet after a tackle from Laporte. The Italian winger cut inside and placed the ball in the corner – away from a helpless Simon stranded. Wembley erupts.

LONDON, ENGLAND – JULY 06: Federico Chiesa of Italy celebrates after scoring their side"s first goal during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Semi-final match between Italy and Spain at Wembley Stadium on July 06, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Frank Augstein – Pool/Getty Images)

Spain continued to create chances. Oyarzabal completely misjudged a header from close range – which saw the end to his evening. Alvaro Morata replaced him and caused a lot of trouble with his constant movement – leaving Chiellini & Bonucci in two minds on whether to get stuck in or sit off. Shortly after his arrival on the pitch, Morata carried the ball forward, played it to Olmo for a one-two and Morata stroked in to the back of the net. A massive goal with 10 minutes to play, where extra time is very likely.

A big blow for Italy who had a good chance to double their lead with substitute Berardi – but they were unable to do so and were punished in the end. Morata runs straight to the camera – once again proving his doubters wrong.

LONDON, ENGLAND – JULY 06: Alvaro Morata of Spain celebrates the equalizer during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Semi-final match between Italy and Spain at Wembley Stadium on July 6, 2021 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Kaz Photography/Getty Images)

The 90 minutes are up, extra time is needed.

Extra time overview:

Another 30 minutes which both teams could do without, with very little to note in this period. An Olmo free kick caused havoc, a cross into the box nearly troubled Donnarumma, but ultimately there was little in it and penalties were needed – not a favoured scenario for Spain given their penalty record.

Locatelli stepped up first and had his penalty saved, Olmo followed with a miss – blasting his effort over the bar. Substitute Belotti stepped up and slammed home – 1-0. Moreno equalises to make it 1-1. Bonucci sends the keeper the wrong way to retake the lead for Italy, Thiago equalises with a very cool penalty – sending the keeper the wrong way. Bernardeschi slams the ball into the top corner – making it 3-2. Morata steps up and fumbles. Italy need to score to win, and Jorginho does exactly that with his hop technique – sending the keeper the wrong way.

A second shootout consecutively for Spain – one too many as Italy progress to the final to face England.

Italy"s players celebrate after winning the UEFA EURO 2020 semi-final football match between Italy and Spain at Wembley Stadium in London on July 6, 2021. (Photo by Matt Dunham / POOL / AFP) (Photo by MATT DUNHAM/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Standout performers:

For Italy, Federico Chiesa was standout once again. Very threatening cutting in from either side, and was pivotal to Italy"s counter attacking game. Very direct, quick, and scored a great goal. The difference maker once again for Italy.

Bonucci & Chiellini once again were very good – with the latter making a few important blocks to prevent any chances. Playing a side with such quality & possession isn"t easy, but the two men who “love defending" did a great job.

Pedri was definitely Spain"s best player along with Busquets. Controlling the game, making Jorginho"s job a lot harder & stopping Italy"s progression with the likes of Barella & Verratti – who shouldn"t have come off collectively and those substitutes did slow down Italy with their offensive capabilities – just making for more long balls & a countering style with less control.

Overall Spain were unlucky to lose, but ultimately they weren"t clinical enough in front of goal – a reoccurring theme. A dominant, well drilled, high chance creating, solid side will no doubt go far in future competitions – as they look to fully get back to the golden Spanish generation of the past.

What next for Italy?

Italy face England in the Euros final. A nail-biting affair with a lot at stake, both teams have been largely flawless so far. England have won all games bar Scotland but have only played extra time once, while Italy have won every game but have played extra time twice.

The likes of Sterling, Shaw, Chiesa & Donnarumma have had brilliant tournaments so far, which have all led up to this very moment.

Match predicition:

I think the game will be very cagy and tight, either being 1-0 either side or extra time. My personal prediction is 1-1 and Italy edge it on penalties.

If you liked this article, check out @afcmcj on Twitter for more & @BigSixPod for weekly football listening content.

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