Loads of neutrals will be tuning in for this match. These two heavyweights of world football faced off in the first knock-out round of Euro 2016. It was, in this column’s opinion, the finest match of the competition and one in which Italy ran out 2-0 winners, their first victory over Spain in five long years. Italy were subsequently knocked out by France and thus ended the reign of Antonio Conte as manager.
Giampiero Ventura is the new man at the helm and he has been handed a team which can boast of vast experience, best exemplified by Gigi Buffon and his 163 caps. Having lost his first game in charge in a friendly against France, Ventura made up for it by winning when it mattered in their first group game away to Israel.
Spain didn’t spend long dwelling on the hurt of their exit at the hands of Italy as an 8-0 win over Lichtenstein will attest. Granted, the whole ‘there are no easy games in international football’ brigade would demur when it comes to those type of matches but eight goals and a grand old time scoring them will help to heal many a wound.
Spain are not the world beaters of old but they are still one of the best teams around and if Diego Costa can bring his recent form for both club and country to this game, the gnarled defenders of Italy will have their hands full. This season has seen Costa successfully marry the good and the bad of his game into a full throttle bastard of a machine. He offers a very different proposition to the standard Spanish forward, being more brutish than balletic but this seeming lack of cultured finesse is in no way indicative of slow footballing mind.
Having missed Euro 2016 through injury, Marco Verratti is a welcome returnee to the team. The diminutive midfielder is more than just a biting presence in the centre of the pitch. Quick of mind and action, he is a brilliant playmaker with a range of passing that would make most players blush. Expect him to have a considerable say in the outcome of this match.
Italy are at home and will likely set up in a 3-5-2/5-4-1 formation to stifle the Spanish and overload them in midfield whilst maintaining the option of quick transitions to counter attack when in possession themselves. Barring injuries, the world’s leading defensive line should take the field for them, too. Getting past them is never easy and Spain will need all of David Silva’s probing guile to open up the space necessary for goals. Costa will need to physically impose himself and upset the defense whilst staying on the right side of the referee – some balancing act.
Although their European and World titles have been stripped from them by Portugal and Germany respectively, Spain are still a formidable team and the market makes them favourites here at something like 3/2. Italy, although they don’t necessarily have the same caliber of player as their opponents, have that rare quality in international football – the ability to be greater than the sum of their parts. If it doesn’t end up a draw, this column thinks Italy might win a tight affair. WilliamHill offer the best odds for that result at a price of 21/10.