Italy v Spain - The Other Semi-Final

Italy v Spain - The Other Semi-Final

One side of the European Championship final will be made up of Italy & Spain. Neither came into this tournament as favourites, but both represent international football as two of its true darlings.

Italy (under the management of Roberto Mancini), have stood out as the competitions best overall side. The control with which they set out their game plan has seen them cruise into the semi finals, with very little fuss. The tag of latter stage favourites is well earned, and if they perform once more, they will be facing one of England or Denmark this Sunday.

The loss of Leonardo Spinazzola at left back is a major blow for Mancini, and his dominate displays from full back will no doubt be a area of uncertainty. With Emerson likely to replace him, with Giovanni Di Lorenzo at right back, the evergreen pairing of Giorgio Chiellini & Leonardo Bonucci will be even more critical to the Italian base. A midfield trio of Jorginho, Marco Verratti & Nicolò Barella will no doubt continue, with the impressive Manuel Locatelli starting from the bench. The faith in which Mancini has placed in Jorginho has paid off, with the Chelsea midfielder controlling tempo and breaking up play when required. Verratti starting from a slightly outside position may well give him that freedom to impose on an often fragile Spanish rearguard, where Mancini will surely see his teams greatest chance of success.

The Italian attack may now miss those celebrated recent icons such as Roberto Baggio or Alessandro Del Piero, but the current trio are working out just fine. The mercurial talents of Lorenzo Insigne alongside the striking instincts of Ciro Immobile, are proving a perfect blend. The introduction of Federico Chiesa in place of Domenico Berardi will surely continue, with the son of Enrico Chiesa proving both a talent and a workhorse from wide positions.

With a good few options from the bench, Italy have to be seen as the stronger of the two teams, however Spain and their own arsenal of talented players could still emerge.

The route to reach the last four has been eventful for Luis Enrique. The former Barcelona boss has defied much public debate and gone with his chosen players. The newly anointed Spaniard, Aymeric Laporte has struggled to adjust next to either Pau Torre or Eric Garcia, until the quarter final. With both Laporte and Torres preferring the left sided central defensive role, Laporte seems to have settled (at last) into the right sided position. The exclusion of Sergio Ramos was probably justified, especially given Enrique was intent on a brand new pairing. The disruption that could have ensued was a non factor with his omission, and the pair may have found that bond when it is most required. A solid pairing at full back (with César Azpilicueta & Jordi Alba the likely starters), the defense now has a stronger look with the legendary Sergio Busquets marshalling ahead.

The forward line & more attacking midfielders is where things become more unclear. Alvaro Morata will start, and to his credit is scoring the goals that warrant his inclusion. The outside midfielders consist of Koke & the young Pedri. With neither player making much in the way of statement performances, it’s a peculiar decision to still see Thiago Alcantara as a substitute still. The control and experience of Thiago could match up well with the Italians, however Enrique will no doubt stick to his guns.

The outside forward positions will probably see starts for Dani Olmo, and one of either Ferran Torres, Gerard Moreno or Pablo Sarabia. None of these forward options are ideal, in the fact that Moreno is far better suited centrally. The lack of real game time for Mikel Oyarzabal will no doubt persist, with continued loyalty placed across Enrique’s preferred starters.

The match will bring a tense tactical battle, with midfielders looking to dominate key areas. The tenacity of Italy will surely win out, with a stronger starting midfield. I can see a late rally from Spain, with much needed winners drafted into the game, but the introduction of Thiago and others may come too late for Spain.

The presence, sheer will to win & inevitable shithousery from Italy’s central defensive pair (Chiellini & Bonucci), should be enough to see them through, if those further forward win their personal battles. But as the competition has shown, anything is possible, and a potential classic may still be on the cards.