To the Final, Azzurri! Penalty Shootout Lottery Favors Italy Over Spain

To the Final, Azzurri! Italy defeated their Spanish nemesis on penalties to reach the last act of the European Championship for the second time in the last three editions. It was a tough battle at Wembley, where Roberto Mancini and his boys were seriously tested by Spain but were ultimately favored by the shootout lottery. 

In a game mostly controlled by Spain, Italy unexpectedly took the lead with a Federico Chiesa magic but Alvaro Morata soon equalized for the Furia Roja. As the balance held until full extra time, Morata turned from savior into guilty as he missed his penalty, offering Jorginho the chance to convert his own one and settle the matter in the Azzurri‘s favor.  

Facing the Furia Roja was not going to be easy and that proved true on the pitch as the Spanish side brushed up their tiki taka skills for the occasion and were the better side for long traits of the game. Luis Enrique ultimately paid for his strikers’ lack of finalization skills – and perhaps a man like Roma’s Borja Mayoral could have been of some help. 

Not that the Azzurri attackers did any better, if truth be told – with Ciro Immobile still far from being the dominating presence he is with Lazio and Andrea Belotti also unable to set his footprint on the game – though at least he had the merit of converting a fundamental penalty kick. Gianluigi Donnarumma’s saves and Jorginho’s finish thus sent Italy further, to face either England or Denmark on Sunday for the final showdown.

Roberto Mancini pretty much stuck with his expected lineup, with the obvious exception of Emerson Palmieri replacing poor Leonardo Spinazzola at left back, and with Federico Chiesa having passed Domenico Berardi in the pecking order for right winger.

Luis Enrique, on the other hand, left out polarizing striker Alvaro Morata, deploying a three-man front line where Mikel Oyarzabal acted as falso nueve supported by Dani Olmo and Ferran Torres.

Italy’s start was encouraging and gave the impression that Mancini’s boys were the ones meant to be in control. Nicolò Barella hitting the post after three minutes despite the offside flag being up seemed a clear warning sign. 

But as soon as the Spaniards shook their tension off, they started to dictate the match tempo by serving the old specialty of the house: Ball possession and one-touch passes. There were no Xavi or Iniesta on the pitch, still the Azzurri didn’t have any answer to that and were pegged back into their own half.

Good for Mancini and his boys that Spain’s front line was not what it used to be either. On 12 minutes, Oyarzabal failed to connect with a brilliant filtering pass from Pedri that would have set him to go one-on-one with Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Italy’s reply finally came on 20 minutes, courtesy of an Emerson progression along the left flank that drove Unai Simon out of his goal. The Chelsea man’s pass set Barella free to shot into the untended goal but the Spanish defense somehow managed to block him.

Then, the Furia Roja restarted to press. Dani Olmo tested Donnarumma’s reflexes from close range and found the Azzurri‘s shot-stopper well alert. His next effort went wide away off target.

The first period ended with Spain recording a 70% ball possession and Italy going into half time with only one shot on target to their name, coming from an Emerson effort that hit the crossbar just before the break. Definitely not enough.

Mancini’s locker room speech didn’t seem to have any short-term effect as, right after the restart, Giovanni Di Lorenzo had to save the day with an acrobatic clearance, preventing Ferran Torres from reaching Dani Olmo’s dangerous cross from the right side.

On 51 minutes, Sergio Busquets’ curling effort missed the target by just a few inches while Federico Chiesa’s right-foot shot called Unai Simon to action for the first time as the game finally started to catch fire. But it was still Spain to lead the dance. Luis Enrique’s men were more aggressive and kept preventing the Azzurri from making their game.

In such a situation, only a single episode could switch the match trend in Italy’s favor. Which is what happened right on the one-hour mark, when Chiesa pounced on a ball cleared by the Spanish defense and whipped it past Unai Simon with a deadly right-foot curler.

The Juventus talent seemed destined to be pulled out as his natural substitute Domenico Berardi continued to warm up. Roberto Mancini had the right intuition in leaving him on the pitch and, when it was time to make the change, he rather pulled out an inconsistent Ciro Immobile.

Still, despite the lead, the Italians continued to play with fire, conceding too much to a Spanish side that desperately missed some good finisher. Oyarzabal was picked past the Italian defense by Koke but failed to head the ball home from point-blank range and one could not but wonder what would have happened if David Villa or Diego Costa were there.

With the match entering its last quarter, both coaches reshuffled their cards. Luis Enrique’s moves were rightfully aimed at enhancing his offensive options, with Alvaro Morata and Gerard Moreno replacing Ferran Torres and Oyarzabal. Roberto Mancini sent in Atalanta men Matteo Pessina and Rafael Toloi for Marco Verratti and Emerson.  

Spain’s methodical ball possession turned into a passionate yet disorganized assault. This left more room to the Azzurri, who made themselves dangerous twice with Berardi – though the Sassuolo man was denied by Unai Simon in both occasions.

But right when Italy seemed to have turn the tides in their favor, Spain punished them with a fast-paced, one-touch exchange between Dani Olmo and Morata, with the Juventus striker piercing Donnarumma to give the Furia Roja their well-deserved equalizer. It was redeem time for Alvaro Morata, whose performances at Euro 2020 had not been exactly the best so far.

As the battle headed towards extra time, Roberto Mancini sent in Andrea Belotti to rebalance his front line with a center forward, and added fresh forces to the midfield with Manuel Locatelli in Barella’s place.

Spain continued to push like a team that was not coming from two extra time battles in a row. On 98 minutes, Dani Olmo whipped a free kick in the middle of the box, but Donnarumma was quick to parry Di Lorenzo’s deflection that was threatening his own goal. Then, the former Milan goalie had to punch away a Gerard Moreno cross, anticipating Morata’s header by a split second. Italy were to the ropes and the first extra time break came as a relief to Mancini’s boys. 

With 15 minutes to go, the Azzurri coach made his last move by replacing Chiesa with Federico Bernardeschi. An offside call rightly chalked off Domenico Berardi’s goal and that was the last emotion before the penalty shootout roulette as neither team had any fuel left in the tank.

It all came down to nerves in the end. Veteran backup goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu briefed Gianluigi Donnarumma and was seen telling him something like “it all depends on your mind.” The keeper did his part, saving Alvaro Morata’s fourth penalty in the sequence that broke the balance after one mistake and two goals for each side.

At that point, it was child’s play for penalty specialist Jorginho to bury the spot and take the Azzurri to the Final. For what seen so far in the Euro, the Azzurri surely deserve a ticket to the Grand Finale but Luis Enrique’s Spain did give them a run for their money. As usual. 



July 6, 2021 – European Championship 2020 Semi Finals
ITALY-SPAIN 1-1 after extra times, 4-2 on penalties

SCORERS: 59′ Chiesa (I), 79′ Morata (S)

PENALTY SEQUENCE: Locatelli (I) saved, Dani Olmo (S) out, Belotti (I) goal, Gerard Moreno (S) goal, Bonucci (I) goal, Thiago Alcantara (S) goal, Bernardeschi (I) goal, Morata (S) saved, Jorginho (I) goal  

ITALY (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Di Lorenzo, Bonucci, Chiellini, Emerson (72′ Toloi); Barella (84′ Locatelli), Jorginho, Verratti (72′ Pessina); Chiesa (106′ Bernardeschi), Immobile (62′ Berardi), Insigne (84′ Belotti) (Sirigu, Meret, Acerbi, Florenzi, Bastoni, Cristante) Coach: Mancini
SPAIN (4-3-3): Unai Simon; Azpilicueta (84′ M. Llorente), Eric Garcia (108′ Pau Torres), Laporte, Jordi Alba; Koke (70′ Rodri), Busquets (106′ Thiago Alcantara), Pedri; Dani Olmo, Oyarzabal (69′ Gerard Moreno), Ferran Torres (62′ Morata) (De Gea, Sanchez, Gaya, D. Llorente, Fabian Ruiz, Traoré) Coach: Luis Enrique

REFEREE: Brych (Germany)
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Toloi, Bonucci (I), Busquets (S); Added Time: 1st Half 0′, 2nd Half 3′, Extra Time 1st Half 0′, Extra Time 2nd Half 0′