Italy booked their place in the UEFA Euro 2020 final in dramatic fashion after a 4-2 win on penalties decided their semi-final tie against Spain on Tuesday evening.
Contrary to general opinion before the game, it was Spain that began the game on the front foot. Luis Enrique’s men had the better chances in the first half while successfully keeping their more fancied opponents at bay.
And so it was against the run of play that Italy took the lead in the 60th minute as Federico Chiesa put the finishing touches on an incisive counter-attack. However, Spain did not let their heads drop and regained parity in the 80th minute. Alvaro Morata came off the bench and coolly slotted home a well-worked equalizer.
Although both sides looked dangerous in attack, neither goalkeeper was unduly tested as the game went into extra time. However, both sides seemed to prioritize not conceding over scoring as an uneventful 30 minutes fizzled out and gave way to a penalty shootout.
Stepping up to put his side back on level terms with four penalties taken by both sides, Morata’s evening then took a turn for the worse. His crucial miss left the door open for Jorginho to send Italy through with a nerveless spot-kick that sent Italian players, staff, and fans alike into raptures.
The Italians now await the winners of the second semi-final between England and Denmark, which is set to take place on Wednesday evening ahead of the final showdown on Sunday.
On that note, here are the hits and flops from an eventful semi-final tie.
Some might question the logic behind Luis Enrique’s decision to drop Morata in favor of a player with quite a different playing style in Olmo. But the RB Leipzig attacker repaid his coach’s faith in him by leading the Spanish attack extremely well.
Playing from a deeper position than what Morata usually occupies, Olmo succeeded in escaping the attentions of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci. As a result, he was able to spend more time on the ball, drive at the Italian goal instead of jostling with the veteran Italian defenders, and bring his fellow attackers into the game more effectively.
Morata’s introduction in the second half saw Olmo switch over to the left flank, from where he was equally effective. In fact, it was Olmo that played Morata in for the equalizer after a deft one-two with the Juventus striker, capping off a stellar display with a well-deserved assist.
A poorly-taken penalty in the shootout was the only blot in his otherwise spotless copybook as the pressure of the occasion seemed to get to him.
Despite being a prolific goalscorer in domestic football, Ciro Immobile hasn’t quite been able to replicate his club form in the international arena. The Lazio man started the Euros with two goals in the first two games but has seen his scoring output dry up since then, even as the Italians continue to sweep all before them in the tournament.
Leading the line for the Azzuri yet again in this game, Immobile was virtually anonymous in the first half as the Spanish defenders man-marked him quite effectively. And when his side did win the ball back, his hold-up play left much to be desired as Italy struggled to get a foothold in the game.
While his pace did help open up the Spanish defense in the build-up to Italy’s opener, Immobile’s struggles at the helm of the attack were soon recognized by Roberto Mancini, who brought him off immediately after the goal went in, with half an hour yet to play.