Friday, 24 September, 2021

Italy, Spain ready for another Euro classic

Italy, Spain ready for another Euro classic
Footballers of Italy and Spain are seen during their respective practice session ahead of their semifinal clash at Wembley, England. — TwiTter PHOTOS

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Two continental giants convene under the Wembley arch on Wednesday, as Italy clash with old foes Spain in the Euro 2020 semi-finals, reports agencies.

Reprising the one-sided 2012 final between the nations, both sides are intent on booking a place in the deciding game of this year's action-packed championship.

This is the fourth successive time these two teams meet in Euro knockout stage with Spain winning the first two ones in 2008 and 2012 while the Azzurri took revenge last time in France.

Following their enthralling quarter-final win over Belgium in Munich, an inspired Italy squad return to London this week to take on one of their oldest rivals, who they first met at the 1920 Olympics.

Nicolo Barella's sixth international goal - his nation have won every match in which he has scored - and an unstoppable Lorenzo Insigne strike against the Belgians helped the Azzurri stretch their record-breaking unbeaten run to 32 games, booking a hard-won place in the final four.

Italy have been successful to demonstrate their traditional defensive solidity to complement the typically fluent attacking play which has become their trademark under Roberto Mancini in Euro 2020.

La Nazionale have emerged victorious from each of their last 13 matches and their last defeat came as far back as September 2018, against Portugal. Though now a distant memory, that loss arrived while the scars of failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup were still yet to heal.

Since then, though, something of a rebirth has seen their manager sift through a number of personnel options, before settling on a relatively youthful, high-energy selection aided by some wise old heads in defence.

While Italy have been runners-up twice in the intervening years - in 2000 and then 2012, when they were comprehensively beaten by Spain - their opponents on Tuesday are bidding to win the Euros for the fourth time, which would make them the most successful nation in the competition's history.

Having scraped through the group stage and the first two knockout rounds, La Roja are intent on passing Germany's total of three wins, and each time they have previously won their quarter-final they have gone on to lift the trophy.

It has been a bumpy ride for Luis Enrique's inconsistent team so far, and like favourites France before them, they were forced to penalties by a well-drilled Switzerland side at the weekend.

A second successive draining encounter - after the thrilling extra-time win over Croatia in the last 16 - saw progress sealed only after goalkeeper Unai Simon saved two penalties to send Spain into the semis.

Despite a sluggish start, Enrique's men have already racked up 12 goals in the competition; equalling their highest ever total at a continental finals, set during the triumphant campaigns of 2008 and 2012.

Spain had, in fact, already won both of those tournaments after six games, but their semi-final showdown with Italy will be their sixth of this edition - and a game which they come into unbeaten throughout their last 13 fixtures.