Italy face Spain in the first Euro 2020 semi-final clash, meeting a repeat of the 2012 final that saw La Roja run out of 4-0 winners.
The two nations have had different routes to the last four, Spain shakes off a slow start and suddenly sparks of goals, while Italy has undoubtedly been the tournament’s most consistent executive, and has hardly had a wobble yet.
Luis Enrique’s side almost managed to squeeze past Switzerland in the quarterfinals despite some Yann Sommer heroics, while Roberto Mancini’s men held a very enthusiastic Belgian side with a genuine defensive champion class.
As these two great nations prepare to meet for a fourth European Championship in a row, we have chosen our Italy against Spain combined XI.
Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Donnarumma – Italy
The Spanish counterpart Unai Simon may have been the penalty kick hero against the Swiss, yet there is simply no way he could earn a place in this team ahead of Gianluigi Donnarumma, the Italian without a doubt one of the best in the world despite still being was only 22.
The current free agent has already played over 250 club appearances in all competitions, while he has also already played 31 times for his country after making his national team debut at the age of just 17 in 2016.
He may not win any popularity contests back at AC Milan for his refusal to sign a new deal at the club – the player who looks set to join Paris Saint-Germain this summer – yet he will have to win the Italian fan base with a number of fine screens at the current tournament.
Like his namesake Gigi Buffon, Donnarumma could well help his side to the big tournament and remain Italy’s undisputed number one for the next 10-15 years.
Right back: Cesar Azpilicueta – Spain
The Chelsea defender is criminally underutilized internationally despite his remarkable consistency at Stamford Bridge as he has not received a summons since November 2018 prior to his Euro 2020 accession.
With Luis Enrique favoring the usual right-back midfielder Marcos Llorente in the two opening group games, Azpi was forced to bite his time to start, yet still made his mark in the 5-0 thrashing of Slovakia before scoring Spain’s goal. second in the exciting 5 -3 victory over Croatia in the round of 16.
The 31-year-old may not quite bomb as often as many modern full-backs, but as his head against Zlatko Dalic’s side showed, he is adept at planning the right moments to make it bend down the right flank.
In a young and inexperienced side, the reassuring presence of the Champions League winner is crucial.
Midfielder: Giorgio Chiellini – Italy
One half of Italy’s veteran Juventus center-back duo, Giorgio Chiellini, remains an integrated force for his country and leads in the only way he knows how – with relentless desire and a passion that apparently will not fade.
The sight of the 36-year-old attacking every ball into the box is a real joy to see, as is his cheers with every resistance attack that is countered and for every attacker who is empty-handed.
Against Belgium, the old-timer hardly gave form Romelu Lukaku a sniff, while his apparent desperation to cling to victory seemed to spill over onto his team-mates, who appear to have developed a real gravel and drive that Italy in recent years have been missing.
Midfielder: Leonardo Bonucci – Italy
Next to his slightly more senior teammate, Leonardo Bonucci is only about the calmer presence, but also matches his partner in crime with the same unwavering will to win, a factor that means both are simply indispensable – despite their overall age of 70 years.
The 34-year-old is not only a committed defender, but is also a real threat to the ball, having the ability to spray passes to his forward line in the same way as a playmaking midfielder.
A word must also be said about Spain’s Aymeric Laporte, who has put in beautifully after changing allegiance from France, even though after conceding three against Croatia and being involved in the mix-up to Switzerland’s goal last time, he has just been edged the man .
Leonardo Bonucci is 34.🇮🇹
Giorgio Chiellini is 36.🇮🇹
Still the best mating in the middle back of the world. pic.twitter.com/spYrnXJXNA
– Next Better Man (@Donald_InDenial) July 4, 2021
Left back: Jordi Alba – Spain
It must be said that this place would almost certainly have gone to the Italian star Leonardo Spinazzola after an excellent series of displays for the Roma man in the competition, before a cruel Achilles injury late against Belgium limited his tournament and seems to keep him out action for an extended period of time.
In his absence, the second-best thing is not so bad either, Barcelona man Jordi Alba has somewhat regained his reputation with his impressive performances so far, the 32-year-old a constant threat down the left flank.
There is no doubt that he has been at the center of criticism at the Nou Camp in recent years, yet he is still difficult to remove for both club and country, while he also has a European Championship medal under his belt after netting in the showcase against Italy in 2012.
Midfield: Nicolo Barella – Italy
With both sides having a host of midfield talents to choose from, it’s not easy to try to make the right choice, yet it’s hard to deny that Nicolo Barella has had anything but a fantastic tournament so far.
Fresh from the back of a Scudetto victory with Inter Milan, the 24-year-old has transferred his star club form to the international scene with complete ease and has shown a versatile midfield skill that has become a rarity in modern play.
The former Cagliari man is comfortable in possession and is also adept at making the difference in the final third as he proved with his excellently taken goal in the quarter-final victory over Roberto Martinez’s side.
Just a reminder ahead of tonight # Euro2020 semi-final that last time Chiesa and Barella played Spain, they combined to produce this:
– These football times (@thesefootytimes) July 6, 2021
Midfield: Marco Verratti – Italy
There is a strong case for Chelsea man Jorginho to earn an inclusion, yet Marco Verratti is simply too good to miss as he has recovered since his return from injury in the last group game against Wales.
This clash saw the PSG midfielder up with Matteo Pessina for the only goal of the game, while also putting the assist on the Barella opener against Belgium, which showed why he is considered one of the best in the world in his position.
It is a testament to his quality that he managed to force himself back into the side, after pulling Manuel Locatelli – who can count himself very unlucky – from start XI, despite the Sassuolo man netting a brace in the second group games against Switzerland.
Midfield: Pedri – Spain
The last midfield track simply has to go to the Barcelona teenager, such has been the ease with which he has adapted to life in both club and country, despite having only played in the Spanish 2nd level in Las Palmas prior for this season.
After becoming a key man under Ronald Koeman in Catalonia, the 18-year-old is now a guaranteed starter for his country and endures as Thiago Alcantara and Marcos Llorente to collaborate with both Koke and Sergio Busquets in a well-balanced midfield trio.
While it has undoubtedly been a bold call to include the child of Luis Enrique, it was certainly not an act of blind faith, as Pedri had more than repaid this confidence with a series of impressive performances that have shown both his remarkable maturity, but also his ability to repeatedly create chances for his teammates.
Not that they can always take them.
🗣️ César Azpilicueta: “The guy who surprised me the most at this tournament is Pedri. He can do anything he likes with the ball. He has SUCH self-confidence, and you can see that when he’s on the field. ”# EURO2020 pic.twitter.com/uzzWXG7K8F
– UEFA EURO 2020 (@ EURO2020) July 6, 2021
Right: Federico Chiesa – Italy
The Juventus winger – son of former Italian international Enrico Chiesa – has had to fight his way onto Roberto Mancini’s side, but appears to have won the battle with Domenico Berardi for a place on the right flank and has also earned a place in our choice.
In fact, neither side has the quality of attacking talent from past years, though there is something that increases at the 23-year-old’s screens, with his relentless desire to find the quickest path to goals.
His most important moment in the tournament undoubtedly came in the 16-day victory over Austria, as he gave his side a lead in hindsight after cutting completely out of the right to shoot past Daniel Bachmann before Matteo Pessina doubled the lead moments later.
Left: Lorenzo Insigne – Italy
On the opposite flank, we have chosen Napoli’s minimal winger, Lorenzo Insigne, the 5 ft 4 Italian who enjoys a really special tournament as one of the key wheels in Mancini’s machine.
After scoring a career-best 19 Serie A goals last season, the 30-year-old is surprisingly full of confidence, as evidenced by his fantastic strike against the Belgians.
As he had done in the opening game victory over Turkey, Insigne cut in from the left before releasing a hard curling length that sailed past Thibaut Courtois, ultimately proving the winning goal despite Belgium pulling one back moments later.
They really lifted Lorenzo Insigne up to braid Donnarumma’s ears 😂
– B / R Football (@brfootball) July 6, 2021
While he will face a tough test up against Cesar Azpilicueta in the semi-final match at Wembley, it currently looks like going forward he wants his chances up against someone and looks to be the man who makes the difference in the last third for Italy.
Forward: Ferran Torres – Spain
The Manchester City man may have had a prominent place on the right in the tournament so far, yet he gets a place in our side through the middle in front of a selection of strikers who just have not quite found their form at Euro 2020.
Ciro Immobile has netted twice for the Italians, yet looked far away from the pace last time, while both Alvaro Morata and Gerard Moreno have been almost comically poor so far, both men missing a number of chances, while also both having wasted opportunities from the penalty spot.
As for Torres, it looks like his reputation is growing with every game that has passed, having previously announced his name on the international stage with a blistering hat-trick against Germany in the Nations League last autumn.
The 21-year-old finished his debut campaign in the Etihad with 13 goals in 36 matches in all competitions, while he currently has a fine international record with 8 goals in 16 appearances, two of which strikes have come to this tournament.
With great uncertainty about what attacking talents will remain at the club next season, the former Valencia man does not mind becoming a more regular presence under Pep Guardiola.
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