Match statistics: Italy 1-1 Spain (4-2 pens.)
Italy has appeared to be the team to beat at Euro 2020 since the first night of the tournament.
And, despite having to rely on luck at times against Spain in Tuesday’s semi-final, the Azzurri will be present on the final night of the competition, their unbeaten run stretching to 33 games and still looking a formidable unit.
Roberto Mancini’s side were not at their best at Wembley Stadium, but the belief and team spirit instilled in his squad by the ex-Manchester City manager has carried them to within touching distance of only their second European Championship title.
Whether they face Denmark or England again under the arch on Sunday, they will face a major challenge in putting an end to the Italian fairy tale.
Gianluigi Donnarumma was the hero against Spain, saving Alvaro Morata’s penalty in the shootout before Jorginho showed his usual cool from the spot to nestle the game-winning effort into the bottom corner past a bemused Unai Simon.
That calm defied Italy’s performance, which lacked the control that had impressed many observers in previous rounds.
Spain, perhaps surprised by their decision not to play an out-and-out striker and instead deploy Dani Olmo as a false nine, allowed their opponents to keep possession for long stretches rather than employing the high-pressing tactics that brought them so much joy in the quarter-finals against Belgium.
Federico Chiesa Italy Spain Euro 2020
Perhaps they were confident that Spain, who have dominated the ball in every game at Euro 2020, are also one of the continent’s most profligate sides, and thus unlikely to hurt Italy too much in the final third.
If that was Italy’s belief, it worked flawlessly for 80 minutes.
Both Olmo and Mikel Oyarzabal fluffed their lines when well placed in the box, and the excellent work of Pedri and Sergio Busquets in midfield appeared to be for naught after Federico Chiesa scored midway through the second half.
Whether it was in the Champions League, Serie A, or the Coppa Italia, Chiesa has demonstrated that he is a big-game player during his first season at Juventus, and that ability to not let the occasion get too much for him was on display again on Tuesday.
His superb curled finish after a quick Italy counterattack was wildly celebrated by the 11,000 or so Italian fans inside Wembley, who slightly outnumbered their Spanish counterparts as both contributed to a fantastic atmosphere in the English capital.
Federico Chiesa Italy Euro 2020
Those cheering for La Roja were ecstatic as the game entered its final 10 minutes, as Morata – who had been brought off the bench in the aftermath of Chiesa’s goal – exchanged passes with Olmo before slotting home with a finish that sent Donnarumma the wrong way.
Only four players in the competition’s history have scored more European Championship finals goals than Morata’s six, and only Cristiano Ronaldo had previously scored three or more goals in more than one Euros tournament.
It was difficult not to feel some joy for Morata, who has faced criticism despite having had an elite career at the highest level, and who received death threats from disgruntled supporters earlier in the competition.
One can only hope that he avoids such heinous abuse in the days that follow this game, as his penalty miss will almost certainly paint him as the Spanish villain.
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Olmo also missed his spot kick, but the narrative surrounding Morata made it seem almost inevitable that he would end the night as the fallen hero, even before he started his run-up to take Spain’s fourth attempt of the shootout.
So it is Italy that is marching forward, and few would bet against them going all the way now. This version of the Azzurri has an air of inevitability about it. They always seem to find a way to win, whether they play well or not.