Spain’s cunning plan on how to beat Italy this time appears to have a flaw.
They meet in the Nations League semifinals on Wednesday, three months after another semifinal matchup at the European Championship.
Italy won that encounter on penalties after the match finished 1-1, and went on to beat England in the final.
Spain coach Luis Enrique recently said he would stick with an attacking philosophy against Italy, but that could prove tricky against a side that has one of the best defenses in international soccer.
Italy’s world record of 37 consecutive games unbeaten — and counting — is founded on rock-solid defense. Indeed, it set another record this year of 1,168 minutes without conceding a goal.
But, as coach Roberto Mancini and captain Giorgio Chiellini admitted on Tuesday, the sternest test of that unbeaten run was that semifinal against Spain.
Italy struggled for long periods as it was given a masterclass at times in ball possession and movement in midfield.
“The memory of that semifinal is still alive and, the emotions are still imprinted in our heads and hearts,” Chiellini said. “It was a difficult match, we all remember it.
“Tomorrow, we will have to be alert in all the phases of the match, when we have the ball and when we don’t. ... Great respect to Spain, because we know their great quality, but we have to manage to control better the various phases of the match.”
Unlike their Euro 2020 semi at Wembley, the Azzurri will enjoy passionate home support on Wednesday from a sell-out crowd of 37,000 at Milan’s San Siro, which has a reduced capacity by 50% because of coronavirus measures.
The winner will face world champion France or Belgium in the Nations League final, which is also in Milan on Oct. 10. France plays Belgium in Turin on Thursday.
Italy has been hit hard by injuries. It was already without four of its Euro 2020 winners through injury when Mancini announced the squad last week: Leonardo Spinazzola, Alessandro Florenzi, Gaetano Castrovilli and Andrea Belotti.
Mancini lost another three at the weekend as Ciro Immobile, Rafael Tolói and Matteo Pessina were forced to withdraw and were replaced by Moise Kean, Davide Calabria and the uncapped Federico Dimarco.
“Clearly we have a few problems,” Mancini said. “Because we’re missing our two Euro 2020 forwards, who are at home injured.
“But as out and out strikers, we have Kean and (Giacomo) Raspadori, and then we have so many attacking players. We have several options, we’ll see which will be the best one.”
Spain is also without several players, including Juventus forward Álvaro Morata, who scored but also missed a penalty in the Euro 2020 semifinal.
Enrique surprisingly called up 17-year-old Barcelona midfielder Gavi Páez. If Gavi plays, he will become Spain’s youngest debutant, breaking the record held by Ángel Zubieta of 17 years, 284 days set in 1936.
“I must recognize that I am very lucky because there are many players injured — and I feel bad for them — but I’ve got such, such a potential here of Spanish footballers to represent our national team that it’s incredible," Enrique said on Tuesday.
“With Gavi, we need the same as for the other young players: patience, confidence. And the importance is not about when he will make his debut but what we will be saying about him in a few years when he reaches 50 or 100 matches with the national team.”
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