Italy laid down a marker for Euro 2016 with a commanding display as they ran out 2-0 winners over Spain in Paris on Monday.
As the rain poured down in Saint Denis, Italy started much the better of the two sides as their 3-5-2 formation allowed them equal footing in midfield.
Spain’s usual fluid passing game was nowhere to be seen in the early stages and were almost made to pay in the 8th minute but Manchester United number one David De Gea kept the scores level when he dived low to his right to deny Graziano Pelle the opener. The Southampton forward doing all he could to head his side in front from Florenzi’s cross.
After another period of sustained pressure De Gea was relieved to see Marco Parolo glance his header wide after springing free from his marker in the 24th minute.
Four minutes later Sergio Ramos was left blushing as he narrowly avoided a clumsy own goal after attempting a wild clearance just a yard from his own line.
In the 33rd minute Italy finally made their tactical and territorial dominance count after defender Giorgio Chiellini poked home after a double save from De Gea. It was Eder’s free kick that had the Spanish goalkeeper parrying the ball before Chiellini, one of four on-rushing Italians, beat Pique to the loose ball.
The goal failed to inspire Spain back into the contest as Italy coach Antonio Conte’s well-marshalled troops sticking to their game plan of defending in numbers and swamping the midfield in numbers but always looking to break on the counter attack.
On the stroke of half time De Gea was forced into a spectacular diving effort as he palmed Emmanuele Giaccherini’s effort over the bar as Spain entered the break trailing for the first time in 13 knockout matches at a major tournament.
Alvaro Morata, tied for the lead in the race for the Golden Boot, failed to get his side back onto level terms in the 49th minute after hitting his header straight at Gianluigi Buffon in what was the first bit of work of the afternoon for the veteran goalkeeper.
In the 55th minute Eder was guilty of failing to end the contest after being sent through and away on goal by Pelle. However, the Brazilian-born striker hit his shot straight at De Gea as the thousands of Spanish fans breathed a sigh of relief.
Spain survived another chance in the 61st minute after De Gea suffered a lapse in concentration. He came out to collect a tame cross but completely missed the ball but neither Eder or Pelle could take advantage.
The defending champions had a chance to draw level but substituteAritz Aduriz failed to get his shot on target after some fine build up play by Andres Iniesta as Spain remained behind with 20 minutes left on the clock.
The Italians reverted to a 5-3-2 formation as Spain pressed for an equaliser but it was Iniesta who was thwarted in the 75th minute after his volley was hit straight at Buffon. A minute later Pique’s swerving effort tested Buffon but once again the Italian legend was up to the task. Spain now sensing blood, pushed hard for the equaliser.
Spain coach Vincente Del Bosque threw on Pedro with less than 10 minutes to play in his last change as he attempted to spark a change that would get his side back into the contest by forcing extra time.
Lorenzo Insigne stung the palms of De Gea with a fierce volley after skillfully working his way past Ramos but his driving effort was not good enough to beat Spain’s number one.
Pedro and Silva failed to get the better of Buffon in the 86th minute as the Chelsea forward failed to get a foot on the Manchester City playmaker’s teasing cross.
With just a minute left, Buffon beat out the best chance for Spain as Pique’s header somehow did not find its way into the back of the net.
Pelle sent Italy into the quarter-final as he made no mistake from a few yards outing, smashing home a volley in time added on; a fitting finish for the Italians who soaked up the best that Spain had to offer all afternoon.