Italy 2-0 Spain: Defending champions crash out as Conte's tactics prevail

Goals from Giorgio Chiellini and Graziano Pelle secured a 2-0 victory for the Azzurri

Italy 2-0 Spain: Defending champions crash out as Conte's tactics prevail
(Picture; Getty Images)
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SCORE: 1-0, min. 33, Chiellini. 2-0, min. 90, Pelle
REFEREE: Cuneyt Cakir (TUR)
INCIDENTS: Euro 2016 last 16 game.

They may have been outsiders at the start of the tournament but after topping one of the toughest groups at Euro 2016 and knocking out defending champions, there is no doubt that Italy are contenders once again.

They were bigger, better and stronger than their old and familiar foe Spain, who inflicted a 4-0 defeat on Azzurri in the final of this competition four years ago.

That was a distant memory here, as an organised, hungry and robust Italian side recorded a 2-0 victory to set up a quarter final meeting with Germany on Saturday.

Imposing centre back Giorgio Chiellini epitomised the Italian’s muscle and grit, and it was his opening goal which set the tone for well executed team display.

In truth if it wasn’t for Spanish goalkeeper David De Gea it could have been more, and he was finally beaten again in stoppage time when substitute Matteo Darmian’s cross was deflected into Graziano Pelle’s path who made it two.

The reaction of manager Antonio Conte will surely be remembered as one of the pictures of tournament, as leapt on to the dugout following Pelle’s finish.

It was just a glimpse of what we can expect to see in the Premier League when he joins Chelsea next season, and his astute tactics once again worked a treat.

Italy back to full strength

Despite their defeat to Croatia in their final group game Del Bosque named an unchanged Spanish side for the fourth game in succession, with 23-year-old Álvaro Morata leading the line.

In contrast Conte made seven changes from team which lost 1-0 to the Republic of Ireland when qualification was already confirmed.

Alessandro Florenzi was one on the four players who remained the side following the Azzurri’s final group game and the Roma midfielder excelled on the right of a compact 3-5-2 formation.

It was Florenzi’s cross on nine minutes which forced De Gea to make his first save of the match after just nine minutes when Pelle outjumped Sergio Busquets and powered a header towards goal.

Two minutes later another one of Florenzi’s deliveries picked out Marco Parolo who knocked the ball into the path of Emanuele Giaccherini. The Sunderland midfielder, who spent last season on loan at Bologna, attempted an audacious overhead kick which was tipped on to the post by De Gea, although the whistle had already gone for a foul.

Pessimists may have pointed out before the tournament that this Italian side don’t have a major superstar like Azzurri sides of the past. However in terms of a team they have looked more organised than anyone at this summer’s Euros and they continued to keep the Spaniards at arm’s length.

Spain unable to impose themselves against organised Azzurri side

Their creative orchestrators Andres Iniesta, David Silva and Cesc Fabregas were regularly smothered by a sea of Blue shirts, which dominated in the centre of the pitch.

The defending champions lacked verve and vision and Morata was regularly isolated upfront.

Fabregas had a shot blocked by Mattia De Sciglio on 20 minutes, but the Italian winger spent the majority of his time on the attack and set up Parolo who headed wide five minutes later.

The danger signs were there for the Spaniards when another cross from De Sciglio moments later was sliced towards his own goals by Sergio Ramos but sailed wide.

It was Ramos’ mistake which led to the opening goal when the Spanish captain clumsily fouled Pelle and Italy took the lead from the subsequent free kick.

Eder took it and smashed it at Spanish goal where De Gea could only parry in front of him.  Giaccherini was the first to react and appeared to be fouled by Gerard Pique when he attempted to bundle the ball home. It didn’t matter as Chiellini pocked the loose ball into an empty net.

De Gea was producing a man of the match performance to keep his team alive by producing a stunning save to keep out Giaccherini’s drive on the stroke of half time.

Defending champions improve after half time

Del Bosque’s response was to bring on Aritz Aduriz in place of Nolito at half time and Spain did improve after the break.

Morata headed straight at Gianluigi Buffon before the Spanish forward was replaced by Lucas Vasquez, while Buffon had to make saves from Iniesta and Pique.

Even so Italy continued to pose a threat on the break and once again had De Gea to thank when he denied Eder - who had been sent through one on one with the keeper.

Italy lost the instrumental Daniele De Rossi to what looked like an injury and their defence began to come under increased scrutiny late on.

Pelle seals the victory

Aduriz curled Iniesta’s cut back wide before Silva almost set up substitute Pedro with five minutes to go, but the Chelsea winger couldn’t quite stretch far enough to convert the chance.  

With stoppage time looming for the Spanish, Buffon made instinctive save to deny Pique before Pelle sealed the victory.