The Bella Italia that we’d seen through the first five matches of the tournament was nonexistent yesterday. We knew that the Azzurri would have a difficult time controlling the ball and dictating the tempo of play the way it had in previous matches against a Spain side that passes teams to death. However, the way that Spain completely dominated the match with 65% of possession when 120 minutes were through was somewhat surprising.
Just as surprising was the way that Spain won the midfield battle. La Furia Roja did it by playing tiki-taka and keeping the ball away from the Jorginho and Marco Verratti as much as possible. Those two had been superb in possession all tournament, but there was little possession to be had yesterday. And thus, Jorginho couldn’t act as the game’s metronome and Verratti was unable to create chances for teammates.
Plus, when Italy did try to play long balls out of the back, keeper Unai Simon was quick off his line to neutralize most of Ciro Immobile’s service before he could latch onto it. Luckily for Italy though, it was able to turn back the clock a bit and play a sound defensive game that was able to absorb Spain’s continuous pressure while conceding just four shots on target and allowing one goal.
It wasn’t what we would’ve expected from this incarnation of Italy, but it was effective nonetheless. Even though this Italy can play some beautiful football and score goals like none of its predecessors, it still has that defensive ability in its DNA. And that was the difference between being eliminated by Spain in the semifinals and advancing to the final via penalties to face either England or Denmark on Sunday at Wembley.
So, let’s see who earned halos and who’ll be saying penance after yesterday’s emotional victory over a Spain side that had gotten the best of the Azzurri for much of the last thirteen years.
Donnarumma continues to prove that at just 22-years-old that he’s one of the best keepers in the world. Gigio faced only four shots on target, but he was up to task on all but one. His biggest save in the run of play came early when he stuffed Dani Olmo from twelve yards out in the 26th minute. And he also came up big during penalty kicks when he saved Alvaro Morata’s shot that put the Azzurri in a position to win it when Jorginho stepped to the spot.
For the second time, the man with the most pious name on the team earns a halo. With Italy struggling to control possession, Chiesa was starved for service for most of the match. However, he was nearly the match winner when he latched onto a loose ball at the top of the 18 and took a couple of dribbles before curling a shot between two Spanish defenders, around Simon, and into the far side of the goal in the 60th minute. It was a stunning strike that gave Italy the belief that it could win. Plus, as usual, Chiesa hustled throughout the match, both tracking back to defend and trying to get in behind the defense whenever a long ball was launched.
It wasn’t a vintage Jorginho performance in possession as he struggled to be Italy’s metronome with only 51 touches in 120 minutes. However, the Chelsea man still put in a shift. His work in front of the center backs was vital as he worked hard to snuff out Spanish attacks before they reached the last line of defense. Jorginho raked up 8 interceptions, two tackles, and two clearances in the match, while only committing one foul. And it was him—cool, calm, and collected—who stepped to the spot to bury the winning penalty.
Bonucci led the team with 76 touches, which speaks to the way this match was played. And it was often he and his partner in crime, Chiellini, who had to try and move the ball out of the back. He was only 5-16 on long balls yesterday, but his defensive work far outweighed his passing on the day. Bonucci finished with six interceptions, four clearances, and two blocked shots while committing just one foul. And he was ice cold in burying Italy’s third penalty.
Chiellini was again monstrous in the back for the Azzurri. It was a difficult task without Spain playing a traditional false nine for him to man mark for most of the match. However, he didn’t let that bother him as he finished the match with four tackles, two interceptions, and five clearances without committing any fouls. He did get beat for pace on Morata’s goal, but it was a lovely passing play on Spain’s part. Additionally, he was second on the Italian side with an 83.6% passing percentage and was 6-11 on long balls. Plus, his leadership is so big for this side. The joy he has for the game is a sight to behold as he jibbed Jordi Alba prior to penalties.
Giovanni Di Lorenzo
Di Lorenzo continues to act as a de facto third center back on Bonucci’s right and it’s worked out well for Mancini. He even shifted to the left when Toloi entered and didn’t miss a beat. The Napoli man played another unspectacular, yet solid defensive match with two tackles, two interceptions, three clearances, and a block.
Berardi worked hard and provided a bit of a spark to the Italian attack when he entered in the 60th minute. The Sassuolo man had three shots (two on target) and may have been in on goal in extra time had Belotti made a better pass. He also worked hard tracking back as he contributed one tackle, one interception, two clearances, and one block.
Emerson may not have shined the way Leonardo Spinazzola does in attack. Nevertheless, he more than held his own over 73 minutes for the Azzurri. He led the team in completing 87% of his passes. He also hit the post right before halftime and was unfortunate not to have the Azzurri up at the break. Defensively he contributed just one tackle and was fortunate not to be punished when he lost his mark a couple of times. However, I don’t know if Mancini could’ve expected much more from a guy who hasn’t played much this season.
I never thought I’d be putting Bernardeschi’s name on this list in this tournament. However, despite playing only 15 minutes and having three touches when Chiesa was gassed, Bernardeschi was money in the shootout. He showed some mettle to take his penalty so perfectly after being a peripheral figure throughout this competition.
Stuck In Between
Insigne didn’t shine in this one the way he did against Belgium, but it wasn’t all bad from the Napoli skipper. Insigne barely touched the ball for much of the first half hour and finished the match with just 33 touches. However, it was his key pass to Immobile that opened up the goalscoring play for the Azzurri. He also sacrificed for the side by playing as a false 9 after Immobile’s exit in the 60’.
Many would probably put Immobile in the sinners list in this one. However, I find it hard to fault him when he was starved of service. Immobile had just 17 touches in his 60 minutes, but it was his run that opened up the play for Chiesa to score his goal. Immobile was a willing runner as Bonucci tried to dink balls over the high Spanish line, but Simon was sure to snuff them out before Ciro could latch on. That being said, Immobile is not the ideal striker to hold the ball up when the team needed some respite from Spain’s ball dominance.
Belotti didn’t fair much better than Immobile after entering the match in the 84th minute. However, he worked hard to try and win back possession and get in behind Spain’s high line. Defensively Belotti finished with one tackle, one interception, and one clearance. However, despite the hard work, he was caught offsides three times, dispossessed once, and had three unsuccessful touches. He also misplaced a pass to Berardi that could’ve led to a scoring chance late. That being said his penalty kick was perfection and reenergized the Azzurri after Locatelli’s miss.
The Pessina we saw in this one was very different than the goalscoring hero we saw earlier in the tournament. He was thrown into the midfield in the 74th minute to help stem the tide of the Spanish attack. He worked hard, but there wasn’t much else to speak of.
After being one of the stars against Belgium, Barella suffered against Spain's midfield in this one. In 84 minutes, he managed just 39 touches and was dispossessed twice, and had three unsuccessful touches. He did have two key passes and drew three fouls, but his influence was limited. Barella just wasn’t enough of a ball winner in defense with a success rate of 27.6% (8/29) when pressuring Spanish ball carriers and only had two tackles to show for it.
Like Barella, Verratti suffered against the Spanish midfield in this one. His defensive work was slightly better than his midfield mate with two tackles, two interceptions, and a 31.6% (6-19) successful pressure rate, but it wasn’t enough. And he was almost non-existent in possession. Verratti had just 43 touches and no key passes in this one.
Locatelli had been relegated to bench duty since Verratti’s return and didn’t do anything to stake a claim to more playing time in the final yesterday. He was brought on in the 84th minute for Barella to try and reinvigorate the midfield. However, he did little to speak of with just 12 touches. On defense, he contributed just one tackle and two clearances, while going 0-5 when applying pressure. And to cap it off, he missed the Azzurri’s opening spot kick.
Tolói was brought on in the 73rd minute to help the Azzurri defend their 1-0 lead. However, he looked slow and out of place quite a few times last night. He had one tackle and one interception while committing two fouls and being booked. Mancini likely would’ve been better off bringing in Bastoni as a makeshift left back.