Damn that Perisic goal! Damn that Sergio Ramos penalty miss! Now we have to face Italy and, if we overcome them, awaiting us is Germany, who, based on yesterday’s performance, seem to be up for it. But first Italy, who are a hard nut to crack. Del Bosque feels –since that thrashing by Holland – that we can’t attack well against three central defenders. Our passing game comes to a halt there. And Italy play with three at the back, another BBC line-up of Bonucci, Barzagli, and Chiellini who are of the same mind, successful teammates at Juve, where they were also with Conte. The rest of the team too have that extra competitive gene that only the Italians have.
It is true that the recent head-to-heads look good. Spain buried the historical hex when they beat Italy in the quarterfinals of Euro 2008 on penalties. And they thrashed them in the final of Euro 2012. They fear us, of course, but perhaps, because of those recent defeats they feel that they have little to lose and so much to gain. More than this, Italy have returned to their footballing roots, their destructive yet cautious game, hindering their opponent, playing with patience and waiting for a mistake. They are relaxed, they secured top spot in their group after just two games allowing the third to be used for fringe players. They’ve all freed themselves from their nerves.
This is the opposite of what I see in the Spanish camp. I like this team, but ever since Brazil they can easily become anxious and right now is similar. It’s one thing then another… Almost half of the group has not been used and the many days between games have served as time to ponder the untimely and silly defeat to Croatia, repeating on itself like the taste of the cheap gazpacho served in the army. We know football is a state of mind. Del Bosque now faces a major test: to reset the feelings within the team to that which existed prior to the Perisic goal. The players are the same. It’s only their spirits that need to be restored.