Italy vs Spain: Revenge in mind for the Azzurri

 

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Italy will be looking to exact revenge on familiar foes Spain when they square off in the round of 16 at the Stade de France on Monday.

This will be the 35th meeting between the Azzurri and La Furia Roja. Not surprisingly, the results are split down the middle – with 10 wins each for Spain and Italy, and 14 draws. The two European giants are no strangers to facing each other at this competition, either. In the 2012 edition, they actually met twice: in the group stages, and then in the final. Italy drew Spain 1-1 in the first game, but were humiliated 4-0 in the final. That, to date, is their worst ever loss in a major competition.

Spain long have had the upper hand over Italy in competitive fixtures. In fact, the Azzurri have not beaten them since the 1994 World Cup. At Euro tournaments, it’s been frustration, frustration, and more frustration. In 2008, they were knocked out by La Furia Roja, and then demolished in 2012. And on both occasions, Spain ended up winning the trophy.

So, is it advantage Spain? Not necessarily. For starters, Vicente Del Bosque’s men lost their last match against Croatia. This prevented them from topping their group, and more important, ended a series of records. Croatia’s first goal ended their 700+ minutes without conceding. It also marked the first time in seven Euro games that they had given up a goal – the last was during the 1-1 draw with Italy in 2012.

The Vatreni, however weren’t done just yet. Their late goal put an end to Spain’s long-standing unbeaten streak, which was rolling on 15 at the time of the match. In fact, prior to this past week, Spain hadn’t lost a Euro game since 2004. And now they will be coming into this game needing to shake that bad result off – quickly.

Del Bosque has no injury nor suspension concerns to trouble him. This is quite impressive for two reasons. First, Spain are just one of two sides to use the same starting XI for all three games – the other is, perhaps not surprisingly, minnows Iceland. Second, La Furia Roja have an excellent disciplinary record. Out of the 16 teams left, they have picked up just one yellow card – the best out of all sides. Italy, by contrast have used a whopping 22 different players – emphasizing Conte’s tendency to rotate – and have picked up ten cards, which makes them the most “combative” side so far.

For Italy, only Lazio’s Antonio Candreva misses out due to a hamstring problem. The Azzurri, however, are fighting against more than just a bad competitive track record against Spain. To start with, the four-time World Cup winners  haven’t beaten their opponents since the 1994 World Cup. In addition, despite Spain shipping two goals recently, the knockout rounds are something different altogether.

Remember Youri Djorkaeff? Well, he is the last player to scored against Spain in knockout stages – 16 years ago at Euro 2000. Italy, meanwhile, have failed to score in three out of their past four knockout Euro games – with the only success being against Germany in the 2012 semi-finals. Yes, they beat England at that tournament, but that was via spot-kicks.

Monday’s match will feature plenty of interesting match-ups. The veteran Gigi Buffon vs. the rising star David De Gea. Alvaro Morata vs. his former Juve colleagues – namely Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, and Andrea Barzagli (in addition to, of course Buffon). The brilliant passing ability of Andres Iniesta vs. the staunch Azzurri defense.

Who will come out on top? If history is any precedent, then Spain appears to have the slight edge. However, never discount the revenge factor, and so a victory for Italy is definitely not outside the realm of possibility.

Michelle Bonsu

Freelance football journalist based in New York. Primarily support AC Milan as well as the Ghanaian and Italian NT’s, but you’ll find me watching the Bundesliga and Premier League as well–enjoy a good game, regardless of where it’s being played. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is one of my favourite players.