Euro 2016: Italy confirm its birth for QF

Ramos Spain

Stade de France, 27th June: Italy have progressed to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals following a 2-0 victory over Spain in the last-16 on Monday night. Juventus centre back Giorgio Chiellini scored the opening goal after he reacted quickest to tap in a rebound from Eder’s free-kick in the 33rd minute.

Spain defender Gerard Pique, meanwhile, avoided punishment for an apparent stamp on Eder in the second-half. Southampton striker Graziano Pelle scored Italy’s second goal, latching onto a fine long ball before finishing.

The Azzurri are set to take on Germany in the last eight following their 3-0 triumph over Slovakia on Sunday.

Not just the end of a tournament for Spain but the end of an era. In all likelihood this meek defeat to a terrific and emerging Italian team will spell the end of coach Vicente del Bosque too.

This was a crushing defeat for Spain, the European champions of 2012 and 2008. Del Bosque’s team were outplayed and out thought by a magnificent Italian side led by the incredible life force that is the incoming Chelsea coach Antonio Conte.

It was a two goal margin but it could have been more.

Goalkeeper David de Gea was Spain’s best player and they only created one good chance all game, Italian totem Gianluigi Buffon saving brilliantly from Gerard Pique in the very last minute of normal time.

Who would have thought we would ever say such a thing about Spain? As usual, they had much of the ball but this time they did nothing with it.

While Italy looked youthful and energetic and hungry, Spain looked like a team short of inspiration and ideas, like a team that knew there was a plane home waiting. They looked like a team that needs the change of direction that will surely now come with a change of coach.

Del Bosque has done his bit, that’s for sure. Two European Championships and one World Cup. His team taught the world a few things in South Africa in 2010 and we shall never forget that. They played football in that tournament that most teams reserve for the five-a-side pitches in training.

Here in France, though, Del Bosque has looked a little like the struggle to maintain impossible standards has finally caught up with him and it has been reflected in his team’s football over their last two games. Maybe, on refection, this was a tournament too far for the 65-year-old.

Yesterday in Paris Spain were caught on the back foot by Italy’s purposeful start and never really recovered. De Gea kept his country in it early on but he is a goalkeeper not a brick wall. Eventually even he had to roll over.

Italy were excellent, surprisingly so. Really they were. Conte’s team have only conceded one goal in the whole tournament but here we saw more than clichéd Italian stubbornness. We saw a team with imagination, dexterity and confidence.

In the Bologna midfielder Emanuele Giaccherini Italy had the game’s best player. The galloping left-wing back Mattia De Sciglio was terrific, too, as was Southampton’s Graziano Pelle in attack. When Pelle’s goal arrived in added time, nobody deserved it more.

Earlier on in the game, as the rain poured down, the signs of what was to come were there, if not the goals.

Italy sprang from the blocks and De Gea was required to make two really good saves in the first eleven minutes. The first, from a Pelle header, was instantly recognisable, a plunge low to the left. Then another followed, this time from a Giacceherini scissor kick.

As Spain struggled to settle and began to visibly ask each other questions, we wondered when they would find themselves.

Cesc Fabregas had a chance but struck the shot poorly and then previous service resumed, Marco Parolo heading a De Sciglio cross wide and another cross from the Milan full-back being sliced over his own bar by a nervous Sergio Ramos.

Ramos and Pique were awful all game, just as they had been against Croatia last week. Theirs looks less like a partnership and more like an arranged marriage. It will be interesting to see what the next Spain coach makes of it and pretty soon the two of them were reflecting on the first Italian goal.

A free-kick conceded by Ramos was struck fiercely by Parolo and when De Gea couldn’t hold it defender Giorgio Chiellini hacked the ball over the line.

The lead was fully deserved and Giaccherini would have extended it had De Gea not saved his curling shot just before half-time.

Beyond that, Spain did improve but they were never convincing. A beautiful Pelle flick released Eder in the 56th minute only for De Gea to block and Italy then retreated in an attempt to draw the Spaniards’ sting.

Buffon, 39 next season, had not been over-employed but perhaps knew what was coming. First, he repelled two strong shots from distance from Andres Iniesta and Pique before producing the kind of save of which he is still eminently capable as the clock ticked towards full-time.

Italy conceded a needless free-kick in their own half and when a flick-on dropped over the blue rear guard, Pique turned it goalwards. It was not a sweet contact from the Barcelona player but it looked like being enough until Buffon dropped to his right and pawed the ball away with his bottom hand.

In terms of importance, it was the save of the tournament so far and Italy made good on it by breaking quickly. Lorenzo Insigne spread the ball to Matteo Darmian and when the substitute’s pass was deflected up in to Pelle’s path he crashed the ball past De Gea to settle the argument.

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