Teams

Can Spain match Italy's effectiveness in the two penalty areas?

After several attempts, interrupted by a jump back in time under Antonio Conte, Italy finally appear to have broken free from the shackles of ‘catenaccio’ once and for all. It was a footballing style that defined the Italians for years, and brought results that may not have been any worse had they played another way. After all, they have so often had extraordinary talents at their disposal. They were always content to win by the odd goal, though, and would have happily won by half a goal if they could. That attitude has been consigned to the past under Roberto Mancini, who has shown that embracing a different philosophy can lead Italy to heights never before scaled. They haven’t lost for 32 games now, and have won their last 13.

Italy have been fantastic, Spain have grown into the tournament

Italy have been terrific at Euro 2020. They’ve controlled every game, but for a period where they had to dig deep against Austria, and have been ever so effective in both boxes. From the towering Gianlugi Donnarumma between the sticks to the devilish Lorenzo Insigne at the other end, the Italians play with energy, skill and confidence. That’s what Spain are up against today. Unlike Italy, Luis Enrique’s men didn’t come into the Euros with results and clean-sheet records in their sights. No, they had all manner of doubts hanging over them and plenty of criticism coming their way. However, they have used all that to build a group with a strong spirit and have got better as the tournament has progressed.

When it comes to spirit and style, Mancini’s Italy and Luis Enrique’s Spain are similar propositions, but there are question marks over whether La Roja can match the Italians in the two penalty areas. That’s something we’ll find out in tonight’s mouth-watering clash, the 38th time the countries have met. As it stands, they have an even Stevens head-to-head record - 11 Spain wins, 15 draws and 11 Italy wins - although the Azzurri have a slightly better goals-for column (43 to 40). Both coaches cut relaxed figures yesterday, but I feel like the pressure is on Italy, because of the run they’re on and because that 4-0 defeat in Kiev still hurts. Spain, on the other hand, have already exceeded expectations. Anything more is a bonus.