Euro 2020

Italy preparing for their semi-final showdown against Spain: Mancini: “We’ll be up against an extraordinary side”

The Azzurri will take to the Wembley pitch tomorrow with a place in the final at stake. Bonucci: “It’ll be an open game, we’ll have to watch out for their counter-attacks”

Monday, July 5, 2021

Italy preparing for their semi-final showdown against Spain: Mancini: “We’ll be up against an extraordinary side”

The Azzurri have returned to London, and the hope is that today’s trip won’t be their last to the British capital this summer. In order to make the final of the Euros on Sunday, Italy will need to get the better of Spain, who they’ve faced in every European Championship since 2008.

13 years ago, a penalty shootout win in the quarter-finals probably marked a turning point for the Spaniards, who won two European Championships and a World Cup between 2008 and 2012. In 2012, they simply proved to be too strong against an Italy side that looked fatigued following a semi-final triumph over Germany. Five years ago, meanwhile, Antonio Conte’s Azzurri got a bit of revenge, eliminating Iniesta and co. at the round of 16 stage following a 2-0 win thanks to goals from Giorgio Chiellini and Graziano Pellé.

“It’ll be a difficult match, just like it was against Belgium, even if the two sides have a different playing style,” warned Roberto Mancini today. The Head Coach continued: “We’ll thus have to prepare for other difficulties. Spain are an extraordinary team with an excellent coach.” Mancini admitted that there is some tension, but “that’s the beauty of these challenges”. He does, however, regret the fact that fans from Italy will be absent: “It’s better to play in front of a full stadium rather than a few because, like any show, that’s the beauty of football. I don’t think it’s right that the crowd won’t consist of a 50/50 split between Italian and Spanish fans.”

A win tomorrow would see Italy extend their unbeaten run to 33 matches, thus moving closer to the record set by Spain, who, between 2007 and 2009, went 35 games without defeat. “Playing with the ball on the ground is part of their DNA. This has always involved lots of touches, and they’re ahead of us in this respect. Two teams that play good football will be facing each other, it’ll be an entertaining match. What are our chances of making the final? 50%.”

Spinazzola’s injury means that the Head Coach will have to make at least one change to the side that overcame Belgium in Munich on Friday, but everyone has shown that they play an important role. This also applies to Ciro Immobile, who, after scoring against Turkey and Switzerland, was criticised for his performance against Belgium: “This is a player who won the Golden Shoe and one of the strikers that has scored the most goals in the past few years. In competitions like this, those who are criticised often make the difference in a game or the tournament. This is why we’re quite calm about it.”

Tomorrow, should he play, Leonardo Bonucci will equal Gigi Buffon’s record of 17 European Championship appearances. “It will be an open match,” said the Juventus defender. “We’ll have to be careful of their counter-attacks considering the quality players they have up top. When you play against such a strong national team, on a mental level there can be pitfalls, but if we're the same Italy as the last thirty games we'll be very happy tomorrow. When you get to a semi-final, there are no favourites: you have to put aside what has happened so far. Playing against Spain must be an incentive, and the hope is we’ll come back to Wembley again.”

Like five years ago at the Euros in France, on Friday in Munich the Bonucci-Chiellini duo managed to keep quiet one of the strongest forwards in the world, Romelu Lukaku, with their usual cohesion: “I haven’t played with Chiellini a lot in the last two seasons because of the pandemic and injuries, but it's clear that when we do play together, given how well we know each other, everything comes naturally. Together, we’re able to share our duties, such as leadership and helping the team. This allows us both to give our best in every game.”

Tomorrow, the two Azzurri with the most appearances in the squad, Chiellini (110) and Bonucci (107), will be called upon to mark one of their club mates, Alvaro Morata, who was the victim of serious threats from the public following missed chances against Poland and Slovakia: “Alvaro is first and foremost a friend, we are often together in Turin. I was struck by what he suffered like everyone else, I also know what it feels like to hear such things. I’m close to him, he is a great person and a great father, one of the best strikers in the world and fortunately I have him in my team during the season. Tomorrow, we will need to pay maximum attention to him and to the whole of the Spain team.”