Both teams come into this Round of 16 game off the back of defeats. A much changed Italy were beaten by the Republic Of Ireland while Spain were beaten by a Croatia side who have since been dumped out of the tournament by Portugal.
Italy would have winced when they found out that due to Spain’s defeat they would then be awaiting them after the group stages. The news that doesn’t get any better for the winners of this tie as Germany are around the corner in the Quarters Finals and then there is the possibility of France in the Semi’s. So if either of these two sides are going to win Euro 2016 they are going to have to do it the hard way.
Italy started the tournament brightly after Belgium in their opener, they weren’t great but still got past Sweden in their second and then they were beaten by a late Robbie Brady header in their final group game. Antonio Conte could afford to ring the changes after winning his first two group games and with top of the group already secured the Ireland defeat wasn’t a huge crisis but from a momentum point of view they certainly wouldn’t to have wanted to lose that game
You would imagine that Conte will revert back to what he considers his full strength side for this encounter with Spain and it also being a repeat of the 2012 final. Can Italy exact revenge for that 4-0 drubbing or will Spain beat Italy in a third successive European Championship.
The two sides also met back in 2008 when Spain got the better of them in a Quarter Final penalty shoot out, for many that was when Spain came of age as a real force on the international scene. That win gave them the belief that they could finally win a major tournament and since then they have never really looked back.
Spain were bright in their first group game against the Czech Republic but needed an 87th minute winner from Gerard Pique to get all three points although they looked back to their best against a hapless Turkey in their next game and many put them at that point as tournament favourites
Those feelings would have been tempered somewhat after defeat to Croatia put them in the much harder half of the draw in the knockout stages. Had they won the group they would have a much easier route to a third successive final but the job for Vicente Del Bosque is to pick his team up from that Croatia defeat and make sure the holders aren’t set packing by the end of the evening.
Their was also the rare sight in the game against Croatia and that was actually conceding a goal. Spain’s long major tournament streak of not having their net breached was finally breached by Nikola Kalinic and for as good as David De Gea has been he will have to come in for some criticism after letting Ivan Perisic get the winner from inside his near post.
But I can’t see Del Bosque making too many widespread changes from that defeat to Croatia, although I would be surprised if Sergio Ramos is given penalty duties after he failed to put 2-1 ahead from the spot. Why with all the attacking talent on the pitch he was tasked with taking it I will never know
For tonight, I think Spain will have the slight edge as Italy have seemingly got slightly worse in each game, for all their bright start to the tournament there is every chance that Antonio Conte’s spell at Italy Manager could end tonight before his move to Chelsea.
The first real clash of two European superpowers this evening and one that I think Spain will manage to get the better of and make it three wins in a row over their long term rivals. Spain move into the Quarters and face Germany while Conte says goodbye to Italy.