Penalty heartbreak as Italy beat Spain to reach Euro 2020 final

Sports Wednesday 07/July/2021 01:58 AM
By: Gautam Viswanathan, [email protected]
Penalty heartbreak as Italy beat Spain to reach Euro 2020 final
Image courtesy UEFA

London: Italy needed penalties to beat Spain 5-3 and secure their place at the finals of UEFA Euro 2020

After a goalless first half in which both goalkeepers were rarely tested, the second half began with significantly more excitement.

Spain captain Sergio Busquets, who had been snapping at the heels of the Italians in a midfield battle that consumed much of the first 45 minutes, was shown a yellow card for a painful tackle on striker Ciro Immobile, before he then threatened Gianluigi Donnarumma's goal with a shot that went narrowly over the bar after Dani Olmo's layoff.

Between the Barcelona midfielder's two actions, Italy fired at Unai Simon's goal, but the shot was one he could easily smother.

The second half was far more end to end than the first, Ferran Torres jinking past the Italians to try and plant a shot goalwards on the counterattack, but the Italian defence reacted in time to close him down. It was Oyarzabal who threatened immediately after, his shot also unable to beat the giant Donnarumma in goal.  

But despite all of Spain's attacking threat, it was Federico Chiesa who opened the scoring around the 60th minute mark after good play from Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne. He grabbed onto a loose ball in the box, took a touch, and curled the ball into the far post past Unai Simon to give Italy a 1-0 lead.

After his wondergoal against Austria in the Round of 16, this was another amazing goal from the Juventus winger.

A few seconds later, both sides threw on strikers: Domenico Berardi came on for Immobile, while Torres was replaced by Alvaro Morata to spark his team back into life.

The Spanish missed a glaring opportunity to equalise in the 65th minute, when Koke failed to connect with Oyarzabal's cross when he was just a few inches in front of goal. At the other end, Simon had to save from Berardi when he shot from a tight angle to keep Spain in the game.

Spain boss Luis Enrique brought on Rodri for Koke to bring some more stability into midfield, while his opposite number Roberto Mancini introduced Matteo Pessina for Marco Verratti, and Rafael Toloi for Emerson to keep his team fresh and prevent them from making the sort of mistake that could allow La Roja back into the game.

Berardi had a chance to put Italy 2-0 up, but a smart save from Unai Simon kept Spain in the game...his team's next move would make sure they stayed in it. A slick move through the middle saw Morata exchange passes with Olmo before slipping the ball past Donnarumma to equalise with 10 minutes to spare.

With the clock ticking down, Marcos Llorente came on for Spain to make sure they were able to maintain parity, while Italy sent on another striker in Andrea Bellotti.

Extra time was more like the first half of the game than the second - understandable in many ways, given the high-tempo, physically and mentally draining football both teams had played so far. To make sure his team remained lively, Enrique brought on Thiago Alcantara for the final 15 minutes of the game, while Mancini readied Federico Bernardeschi.

As he had done throughout the game, Dani Olmo continued to torment the Italian defenders, who simply could not deal with him without either hacking or pulling him down. The result was a number of free kicks in the Spanish half. None of them threatened, though, and the game was another of those at these Euros to be decided on penalties.

There was plenty of sporting camaraderie between the two sides as Italy's Manuel Locatelli stepped up to take the first spot kick. He was denied by Simon. Dani Olmo, so influential throughout, took Spain's first, only to miss the target.

Andrea Belotti opened Italy's account when he was able to smash the ball past the outstretched fingers of Simon, a task that Gerard Moreno accomplished for the Spanish to keep both sides level.

Leonardo Bonucci, playing his 108th match for his country, sent Simon the wrong way, as did Thiago, who rolled the ball past Donnarumma, who had committed to diving the other way. Late sub Bernardeschi was next and he hammered it past the Spanish goalie to give the Italians a lead, at least for a short while. Alvaro Morata, no stranger to Wembley, went next, and was denied by Donnarumma, leaving the Italians just one spot kick away from victory.

Jorginho duly delivered, putting his side into the finals of Euro 2020.