Gli Azzurri drew 1-1 with La Furia Roja after extra time before triumphing 4-2 on penalties on Tuesday evening at Wembley and the Italians had to suffer before emerging victorious.
Although Italy have played some of the best football at the European Championship, they were not able to play their game against Spain. If anything, Gli Azzurri were made to look more like one of the Italian teams of yesteryear than the more adventurous during the reign of coach Roberto Mancini.
Mancini’s Spanish counterpart Luis Enrique could only turn to Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets from the golden generation of 2008 to 2012, which won two European Championships and a World Cup, but he still implemented a possession-based philosophy synonymous with that great Spain side against the Italians.
Spain had 70 percent possession to Italy’s 30, made 805 successful passes compared to the 287 of the Italians, and took 16 shots to seven, but they had just five shots on target compared to Italy’s four.
Despite La Furia Roja’s dominance of possession, Gli Azzurri did not set out to deliberately play defensively. Even when the Italians tried to play out from the back, centre-backs Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini played short lateral or backward passes while Bonucci would also hit the occasional long ball with little efficiency.
Spain remained compact out of possession and denied the Italian midfield space to play in. Marco Verratti was not able to link things up in the middle of the pitch while Nicolo Barella made very few advancing runs from midfield.
Although Spain tried to create scoring opportunities, Italy were able to deal with most attacks that came at them while the Spaniards, particularly Real Sociedad forward Mikel Oyarzabal, were rather wasteful at times.
Spain had luck on their side when Switzerland could only score one penalty in the shoot-out of their quarter-final but it was Italy’s turn to have fortune on their side on Tuesday evening.
Andrea Belotti, who has missed his share of penalties at Torino, converted one of the kicks for Gli Azzurri in the shoot-out and Gianluigi Donnarumma saved a tame effort from Alvaro Morata. Jorginho did not have one of his best games in midfield but demonstrated why he is a reliable penalty taker, scoring with his typical nonchalance.
Italy have generally performed well at Euro 2020, often playing with a proactive mentality rarely seen from their predecessors, but Spain pegged them back in the semi-final. Gli Azzurri weathered that storm though and got the desired result without playing at their best.
The Italians are out to win their first European Championship since 1968 and they have shown that they can win matches in both the old-fashioned way as well as the new.