0-1, min 55, Vitolo. 1-1, min 80', De Rossi,
Italy 1-1 Spain: Azzurri hold onto unbeaten home run thanks to late De Rossi penalty

Italy 1-1 Spain: Azzurri hold onto unbeaten home run thanks to late De Rossi penalty

Italy came up with a spirited second-half showing to deny Spain all three points at the Juventus Stadium.

Kaustubh Pandey

Group G giants Italy and Spain played out an entertaining and pulsating 1-1 draw at Turin's Juventus Stadium, as the hosts held on to their record of going unbeaten at home for 17 years in competitive fixtures.

Juve's stadium was packed out to see Giampiero Ventura's side as they maintained their record with a late equaliser to earn a point against a strong Spain side.

Sevilla attacking midfielder Vitolo, who had an impressive game, handed Spain the lead after Gianluigi Buffon had committed a shocking rare error to send the 26-year-old through on goal.

But Italy equalized late in the game after a controversial penalty was handed to the Azzurri following Sergio Ramos' trip on Eder. Daniele De Rossi slotted home the spot-kick to draw Italy level and secure a point.

Ventura preferring the Conte formation

Ventura's Azzurri started in their traditional 3-5-2 formation, quite similar to the side that ousted Spain from the Euros two months ago.

Eder and Graziano Pelle started up front for Italy, with Alessandro Florenzi and Mattia de Sciglio acting as the two wing backs. Daniele de Rossi, who became the 109th player to make 100 appearances for the National side, started as the holding midfielder while Georgio Chiellini's absence allowed AC Milan star Alessio Romagnoli to slot in at centre-back alongside Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli.

The Spaniards on the other hand played in a 4-3-3 formation that saw Vitolo start behind Diego Costa, alongside the impressive David Silva.

No goals in a drab first half 

Julen Lopetegui's men started off the tie by dictating possession, with Italy dropping very deep, allowing the Spanish backline to come high up the pitch.

The plan for Italy was clear - pack the midfield with numbers and stifle Spain for space so that they played from wide areas more often. But Italy struggled in possession, with Spain pressing and counter-pressing high up the pitch really well to win the ball back and nick it in areas close to the goal.

Spain played in front of the Italian back five, who were content in hanging in there and allowing De Rossi in drop in to act as cover for them. The first chance of the game fell to Andres Iniesta and it was the Barcelona man himself who initiated it.

The veteran launched a run by finding himself in some space around the half way line. A one-two near the edge of the box with David Silva gave him some space to shoot with his left, but Iniesta's shot was hit straight at Buffon.

As Italy failed to get out, Spain continued circulating possession. Silva's shot from some distance out almost went in after a deflection off Leonardo Bonucci, but it was only enough to hand Spain a corner.

Italy were insistent on playing the way they were. After Nacho Fernandez had come on for the injured Jordi Alba, Dani Carvajal's cross met Ramos, who headed it down for defensive partner Gerard Pique, but his header was saved easily by Buffon. 

Minutes later, much like Alba, the experienced Riccardo Montolivo sustained what looked like a serious knee-injury after a clash with Ramos, as AC Milan star Giacomo Bonaventura came on to replace him in the midfield.

As Spain continued winning second balls in the midfield, Italy failed to launch counter-attacks as the ball failed to reach Eder or Pelle, who had little to do, barring the last few minutes when the Inter Milan forward had launched some dribbles past the Spanish midfield in vain.

Game livens up with thrilling second half

The second half started off slightly differently as Spain ceded some possession to Italy, who seemed propelled by Ventura's team-talk and pressed high up the pitch in an attempt to deny Spain room to move forward and dominate play. Eder and Pelle closed down Spain quickly up front and Spain now had to struggle to win midfield battles.

As the game became more midfield dominated than it had been ever before, the Spanish goal came due to blunder from the most experienced player on the pitch - Buffon. Koke threaded an impressive through to Vitolo, who was running onto it after almost being clean through with Romagnoli running alongside him. Buffon came off his line quickly but missed the ball completely, leaving Vitolo to score in an open goal.

Instead allowing their heads to go down and Spain to dominate, Italy responded strongly. A win back in the midfield saw the ball switched to De Sciglio, whose cross from the left found Pelle. The former Southampton's man header, which wasn't well met went wide of goal.

Balls were being won and lost in midfield as Italy carried on pressing up front with energy and Ciro Immobile's introduction for Pelle sparked new life into the Italian pressing. In the 65th minute, the former Borussia Dortmund man nearly scored, but couldn't get at the end of Eder's nodded header, which had resulted from a well-taken short corner.

A minute later, Diego Costa lived up to his expectation of getting embroiled in one controversy or the other by kicking the ball towards goal, despite being flagged offisde.

The Chelsea star, who was already on a yellow card, escaped booking despite the protests of Italian players, who had swarmed the referee after the incident. And Lopetegui, rather cleverly, took Costa off for Alvaro Morata in the very next minute.

Italy were caught napping after the Costa incident, but Vitolo failed to double his tally after putting his side-footed effort wide of Buffon, who had come off his line at the very last moment.

The Azzurri began hunting the ball in numbers, making sure that atleast three players remained around the ball such that they could win the second balls effectively well and launch counter attacks to dazzle Spain. 

The introduction of Torino striker Andrea Belotti for Marco Parolo was sure to add more energy to the pressing, as Spain continuously looked stifled to play the ball out of their midfield, as Alvaro Morata was forced to drop deep and help out the midfielders in terms of support.

And it was Belotti whose determined run down the right that aided Italy in their quest for the eventual equalizer. The pass at the end of the run found Eder, who was tripped by Sergio Ramos. Initially, referee Felix Brych didn't point to the spot but after consultation with the assistant referee, a penalty was awarded to Italy.

And there was no one better to slot it away than De Rossi himself. It was a cool penalty, that sent David de Gea the wrong, handing Italy the equalizer they probably deserved. And the reaction had prompted Spain to make a change. And a rather defensive one too. Vitolo was brought off to be replaced by Thiago Alcantara.

The game wasn't over for either of the sides. Italy kept running around, propelled by the enthusiastic presence of Belotti. And in the 86th minute, the opportunity to win the game went begging after Immobile's gem of a grounded cross failed to get a touch from either Eder or Belotti. Moments later, it did seem as if the Azzurri had won the game, but the referee had flagged Immobile offside much before Belotti could slot the ball home past De Gea.

As the sound of Brych's final whistle was heard around the Juventus Stadium in Turin, the Italian fans realised that they had had their money's worth, despite enduring a drab first half performance. And they went home rather happy with the result.