Spain 0-0 Italy, and then off to penalty kicks. A lottery that historically never agreed too much with the Azzurri, although it seemed as if the World Cup 2006 final vs. France had finally broken that taboo. I guess not. Italy fans just have to hope the curse isn’t back.
Much like anticipated in the days preceding the match, this was hard-fought and tightly-contested battle. The Spanish working their way with their short passing tactics, attempting to penetrate a well-organized (yes, you have read correctly!) Italian defense lead by Christian Panucci and Giorgio Chiellini, while on the other end the creativity of Antonio Cassano and lay-up work of Luca Toni tried to hit Spain on counter-attacks. Carlos Marchena and Carles Puyol were however keeping close guard as well and at the end of the day, there weren’t many real chances to make the highlights reel. Mauro Camoranesi had a good rotating strike inside the box (saved by Casillas) and there was a long-range blast by Marcos Senna (parried, then fumbled by Buffon onto the post). Other than that, a lot of ball possession and many shots wide for Spain.
Then came penalty kicks, and Iker Casillas stepped up to the plate by saving Daniele De Rossi’s and Antonio Di Natale’s efforts. Italy are going home.
(From Gazzetta): The adventure is over. Spain beat Italy 4-2 in at penalties and sent them packing, all the while erasing the magic of Berlin on a hot Vienna night. After a goalless 120 minutes, Buffon managed to stop Guiza‘s effort but De Rossi and Di Natale both missed their shots (great saves by Casillas) so it is time to turn the page. The world champions are out of Euro 2008.
Tactically, Italy manager Roberto Donadoni started with the same system he used in the match vs. France (4-3-1-2), albeit with some forced changes in midfield. The absence of Pirlo and Gattuso (the former especially) wasn’t exactly a gift from the heavens, so the Don had the cumbersome task to find a new creative outlet for the Azzurri. In this case, the mission fell on Roma’s Alberto Aquilani, with Daniele De Rossi and Massimo Ambrosini in supoprt. At the same time, Donadoni kept his faith in attacking midfielder Simone Perrotta, positioned behind strikers Toni and Cassano. On the other end, Luis Aragonés surprisingly switched to a 4-4-2 formation, with however the usual 4-player midfield (Andrés Iniesta on the right and Marcos Senna just behind the attacking line).
The Azzurri started the match in attacking mode, with good aggression & pressing ability, but Spain immediately put on the brake. Contrary to their habits, La Furia Roja were playing wide and at low speed, but seemingly in better control of the game. In minute 9 David Silva moved to the center and armed a good shot, but the deflection was blocked by Buffon without major effort. Nothing special, but proof that Spain was controlling play. Meanwhile, Sampdoria’s Antonio Cassano was Italy’s most inspired player, but with lack of support and constant double marking by the Spanish defense, Talentino was having a tough time creating anything substantial.
Minute 18, Fernando Torres time: entering the box from the left and receiving the ball from Iniesta, the Liverpool striker’s effort was too high. Something that should have sent a signal to Italy, because on that side the Spanish were roaming free: bogged down by responsibility, Alberto Aquilani was having a tough time containing the Spanish midfielders and thus in turn, was fairly absent from the Azzurri’s counter-attack plays. Then, on minute 19 it was finally Italy’s turn: a good Ambrosini cross from the left found Simone Perrotta in the box but his diagonal header lacked power, no problem for Casillas. Back to the other end, Spain obtained a good free-kick but David Villa’s 25th minute effort found Gigi Buffon ready to catch the ball on the ground.
Italy seemed to come out of their cage sporadically, but without a real playmaker (Simone Perrotta is no Francesco Totti) the passing (and in particular, the penetration) left a lot to be desired. Spain was doing a lot better and in the 32nd minute Silva challenged Buffon once again, but it was Cassano who finally produced some his magic, executing a perfect cross for Luca Toni inside the box. The Bayern giant however could not connect with the ball, resulting in a missed opportunity for Italy.
In the second half, David Silva continued to put his mark on the game (the first half had ended with one of his shots just narrowly wide of Buffon’s post), but fortunately for Italy there was a certain Giorgio Chiellini playing center-back. The young Juve players was doing overtime, litterally playing Cannavaro circa-2006 and blocking down every single dribbling attempt by the Spaniards inside the Azzurri box. Italy however, were still struggling in midfield where De Rossi and Ambrosini were being forced to work extra hard, thus reducing the number of playable balls down the wings for Zambrotta and Grosso.
In minute 58, time for Mauro Camoranesi to make his appearance (in for Perrotta), and not a minute too soon (the team desperately needing some extra creativity). Just 3 minutes after his entrance, the Italo-Argentine exploited a Toni lay-up and came very close to scoring, but some outstanding goalkeeping by Iker Casillas saved Spain’s clean sheet. Aragonés made some substitutions of his own (Xavi & Iniesta replaced by Fabregas & Cazorla) thus strengthening his ball-possession midfield even more.
In minute 29, Antonio Di Natale came on for Cassano but Spain were in command again. In minute 35 a powerful free-kick by Marco Senna was punched clear by Buffon, and just a minute later another shot by the Spanish midfielder was fumbled onto the post by the Italian goalkeeper. A close shave for Italy. The Azzurri tried to hit back with Luca Toni, but the ex-Fiorentina striker was still struggling to enter the match completely (and actually ended up robbing Fabio Grosso of a big scoring opportunity, on a Di Natale cross). Before the full-time (90 minutes) whistle, Daniel Guiza came on for Torres and eventually managed to find the net, but the play had been stopped for handball. Then, Zambrotta saved Italy by blocking Villa inside the box in minute 93.
Extra time was immediately exciting: in the third minute Villa flashed a shot wide and two minutes later, Italy came close to scoring on two occasions. First Marchena intercepted a great Grosso pass to Toni, then a powerful header below the bar by Di Natale was tipped over by Casillas. Italy were kicking themselves because they were having the best chances, even though both teams were now purely relying on instinct and passion. Alessandro Del Piero came on for Aquilani in minute 108 (the Don probably anticipating penalty kicks), while the Spanish continued to try: Buffon saved a Villa shot and in the final minute Cazorla dragged a mid-range effort wide. Time for penalties and this time, Spain did not fail.
0-0 (4-2 p.s.o.)
Villa (S) goal, Grosso (I) goal, Cazorla (S) goal, De Rossi (I) saved, Senna (S) goal, Camoranesi (I) goal, Guiza (S) saved, Di Natale (I) Saved, Fabregas (S) goal.
|SPAIN (4-4-2): Casillas – Sergio Ramos, Puyol, Marchena, Capdevila – Iniesta (59’ Cazorla), Senna, Xavi (59’ Fàbregas), Silva – Villa, F.Torres (85’ Guiza). (bench: Reina, Palop, Albiol, Navarro, Arbeloa, Juanito, Xabi Alonso, De la Red, Sergio Garcia). Coach: Aragones.|
|ITALY (4-3-1-2): Buffon – Zambrotta, Panucci, Chiellini, Grosso – Aquilani (108’ Del Piero), De Rossi, Ambrosini – Perrotta (58’ Camoranesi) – Toni, Cassano (74’ Di Natale). (bench: Amelia, De Sanctis, Gamberini, Materazzi, Borriello, Quagliarella). Coach: Donadoni.|