It was billed as the game of the round, and Italy rose to the occasion at the Stade de France with an excellent performance. Giorgio Chiellini scored the first goal just after the half-hour, and Graziano Pelle scored his second goal of the tournament in injury time to seal the deal. The Italians were expected to sit back and absorb the Spanish pressure, but it was soon clear that they were going to play a much more active role in the game than first thought. Soon enough it was the Spanish who were forced to cope with the Italian pressure, and Pelle came incredibly close to scoring with a header from Alessandro Florenzi’s well-placed free kick. The ball was hit well towards the bottom corner, but David de Gea made an excellent reflex save to deny the Italians. They had another great chance when Eder headed the ball in the direction of Emanuele Giaccherini, whose well-hit bicycle kick forced a wonderful stop from de Gea. The ball bounced off the post, and Spain were lucky to survive.
Then came the goal. Italy received a free kick in a perfect scoring position, and Eder drove the ball in past the wall towards the bottom corner. It was a good strike, but de Gea was up to it and made the save, before sliding in to prevent Giaccherini from scoring from the rebound. The ball spilled loose, and Chiellini was simply too fast for Gerard Pique as he bundled the ball into the back of the net. It was a good goal, and it was the difference between the sides at the break as Spain were unable to make any kind of impact. The Spanish started the second half more positively, and Alvaro Morata had a great chance when his header was well saved by Gianluigi Buffon. Spain had most of the possession, but the Italians looked very dangerous on the break. Eder forced de Gea to make a great save when Pelle’s back heel left him one-on-one with the Spanish keeper, and Spain looked to be in a difficult position.
Spain threatened to take control time and time again, and with twenty minutes to go they had a string of brilliant opportunities. Lucas Vazquez looked to be through after some good work from Aritz Aduriz, but he was adjudged to be offside and Italy regained their control. Spain had control of possession, but they were not quick enough in attack to challenge the Italian defence. Andres Iniesta had a good chance with a volley but Buffon was able to save it. The Italian keeper was called into action again moments later when Pique forced a diving save with a shot from range, and Spain looked as if they could break the Italian defence. They couldn’t. Italy stopped the Spanish charge and took the heat out of the game, and Spain did not have enough life in them to put it back. Pique had a great chance after de Gea’s hack into the box found him in a good position, but Buffon dived well and made the stop. The game was all but over when Lorenzo Insigne’s cross field ball found Matteo Darmian on the right wing, and the result was confirmed when Darmian’s cross connected with Pelle, who was in a brilliant position and put an unstoppable shot into the back of the net.
Saint-Denis – Stade de France
Italy 2 (Chiellini 33, Pelle 90+1)
Referee: Cuneyt Cakir (Tur)
Italy (3-5-2): Buffon – Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Florenzi (Darmian 84), Parolo, de Rossi (Motta 53), Giaccherini, de Sciglio; Pelle, Eder (Insigne 82).
Spain (4-3-3): de Gea – Juanfran, Pique, Ramos, Jordi Alba; Fabregas, Busquets, Iniesta; Silva, Morata (Lucas Vazquez 70), Nolito (Aritz Aduriz 46 (Pedro Rodriguez 82)).
1. Eder (Italy)
Eder was in top form, creating plenty of problems for the Spanish defence with his pace, skill and ability to slip in behind. His free kick set up the first goal for Italy, and he provided plenty of headaches for Spain with his speed on the counter-attack. He had many golden opportunities, and made life very difficult for the Spanish.
2. David de Gea (Spain)
Italy created great chances from the beginning, and de Gea had a very busy night as he made some top-drawer saves. He was unlucky to concede the first goal after some great goalkeeping to deny both Eder and Giaccherini, and he could not have saved the second. He kept Spain in the match with some of his work after the first Italian goal, and he can hold his head high after a great performance.
3. Leonardo Bonucci (Italy)
Bonucci was as solid as ever at the heart of the Italian defence, and the Spanish never really looked like breaking through him. He provided great leadership at the back and showed some of his skill on the ball with his excellent distribution. He had a good game and is in good form leading into a key clash with Germany.
4. Emanuele Giaccherini (Italy)
Giaccherini was lively from start to finish, pressing hard and putting plenty of pressure on the Spanish. He nearly scored on multiple occasions, and he was the first Italian player to get to the rebound after de Gea saved Eder’s powerful free kick. He nearly scored in a spectacular fashion with a bicycle kick, and his liveliness was a key reason for Italy’s victory.
5. Cesc Fabregas (Spain)
Fabregas tried very hard for the Spanish, and he had a good individual game at the heart of midfield. He created some excellent chances from set pieces and he was the player who looked most likely to create a goal for the Spaniards. He was able to find plenty of space throughout, and he was Spain’s most dangerous attacking force.