Italy Face Spain in Rematch of Euro 2012 Final

Jun 27, 2016 by Alex Baker

The round of 16 at Euro 2016 gets underway this weekend with teams playing on two sides of a lopsided bracket; one side of which contains heavyweights like Germany, Spain, England, Italy and France; the other side of which contains the likes of Belgium, Wales, Hungary, and Portugal. While there are a number of standout match-ups in this weekend’s action, the one that really catches the eye is Monday’s tantalizing clash between reigning European champions Spain and perennial tournament favorites Italy. Spain, who were among the favorites heading into the tournament, had a tougher than expected time progressing through the group stage. They were fairly subdued in their tournament opener, winning 1-0 against the Czech Republic in a game that looked much tougher for Vicente Del Bosque’s side than it should have. They looked more their old selves in their next outing, an emphatic 3-0 win over Turkey that saw Alvaro Morato net in both halves with a single goal from Nolito sandwiched in between. But Spain took the eye off the ball in their next match against Croatia. With the score tied at 1-1, Spain seemed to switch off in the final moments of the match, allowing Ivan Perisic to snatch a late winner for Croatia. As a result, Spain failed to top their group. The Italians on the other hand, have been one of the surprises at this summer’s tournament so far. They stormed out of the gate with a 2-0 win over pre-tournament favorites Belgium, and dispensed with Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden, before slumping to a surprise loss to Republic of Ireland in their final group stage match. But despite dropping points to the Irish, Italy topped Group E and were unfortunately rewarded with a meeting with the reigning champions for their efforts. But while Spain are the decided favorites, Antonio Conte’s team will fancy their chances on Monday. Especially after Croatia demonstrated just how vulnerable this Spanish side can be to counterattacks, something the Azzurri have specialized in for decades. Italy are never one for running up a high goal tally, but their typically stingy defense has given up just a single goal in this tournament so far. And apart from the 3-0 against Turkey, this Spanish team hasn’t had the easiest time producing goals of late. If the Italians can maintain their trademark defensive rigidity and hit on the break, as they did against Belgium, they have the potential to hurt this Spanish team and possibly, deal the first major upset of this tournament. Spain meanwhile, is likely to rely on its traditional possession-based game. The superior on-the-ball talents of players like Cesc Fabregas, David Silva, and the untouchable, Andres Iniesta, have the potential to overwhelm the Italians with their ability to move the ball and open up scoring opportunities for the likes or Morata and Nolito. When these two met four years ago, Italy were handily defeated with Spain putting four unanswered goals past keeper Gianluigi Buffoon. But it’s not yet clear if this current Spain side is up to the standard of that team. Italy meanwhile, have shown themselves to be very capable of springing a surprise. You can catch Italy taking on Spain in the Euro 2016 round of 16 this Monday, June 27 at 12:00 p.m. EST on ESPN.

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