England may be enjoying playing at Wembley during Euro 2020, but on last night’s evidence, Italy are, too.
Roberto Mancini’s side have appeared at the national stadium twice during the tournament and, despite not always being at their best, on both occasions they have found a way to win.
That was certainly the case last night, as Italy defeated Spain 4-2 on penalties to book a place in Sunday’s final.
Before the drama of penalties, the two teams could not be separated during a pulsating 120 minutes that made this match a strong contender for game of the tournament. If England v Denmark tonight is half as good, then the 60,000 at Wembley are in for a treat.
This game was, at times, breathtaking and the quality of Federico Chiesa and Alvaro Morata’s goals were fitting. Chiesa curled his into the far corner on the hour mark, while Morata showed the kind of composure he wished he’d had in the shootout.
“When you’re involved in such an intense tournament, there always comes a game where you have to dig in and suffer,” Italy boss Mancini said. “Almost no one believed we could do it, but the players believed right from day one we could do something incredible.”
Before Italy’s first game of the knockout stages, their last-16 tie with Austria at Wembley, Leonardo Bonucci warned his team-mates that “occasionally you need to be big, bad and ugly”. He was proved right against Austria, as Italy needed extra-time to win but, after this victory over Spain, Bonucci has been fully vindicated.
Under Mancini, Italy have become much more of a progressive and possession-based side, but they were unable to be that last night. Spain rolled back the years and dominated possession with the type of performance we saw during their pomp a decade ago.
Manager Luis Enrique even dusted off the old tactic of playing without a recognised striker, as Morata was left on the bench and Dani Olmo was deployed as a false nine. Their midfield was excellent, marshalled superbly by captain Sergio Busquets. It was 18-year-old Pedri, however, who stole the show.
He did not misplace a single pass during the 90 minutes and it felt incredibly cruel for him to be on the losing side after such a performance.
“Is everyone paying attention to what a kid of 18 has done at this Euros? What Pedri’s achieved, nobody has seen before,” said Enrique. “Not even when Andres Iniesta burst through.”