Calafiori own goal helps Spain settle heavyweight contest against Italy, enter Euro 2024 knockouts | Football News - Hindustan Times

Calafiori own goal helps Spain settle heavyweight contest against Italy, enter Euro 2024 knockouts

By, Mumbai
Jun 21, 2024 06:48 AM IST

After 1-0 defeat, Italy will now have to win against Croatia if they want to progress.

This was a match of high pedigree between two teams that have won World Cups and European Championships; teams that have in their time — Catenaccio for Italy and Tiki-taka for Spain — redefined how the world plays the game.

Euro 2024 - Group B - Spain v Italy - Spain celebrate after the match(REUTERS)
Euro 2024 - Group B - Spain v Italy - Spain celebrate after the match(REUTERS)

Matches between Italy and Spain have been close affairs in recent times. Both sides are attempting to get back to their heady days and perhaps on evidence of what we saw on Thursday, the Spaniards have made better progress.

Coming into the game, the Italians knew that too.

“Right now Spain, are better than us in terms of individual players. We will have to bring the Italian spirit into play; we will need to struggle together,” said Italy midfielder Davide Frattesi before the game.

And his words were right on the mark. Spain were better but how the Italians struggled. There was spirit, there was tenacity but all of that was eventually brought down by luck. In a cruel twist of fate, the Italians were brought down by one of their own. It wasn’t an inside job, not in that sense but that is just how things happened to come together.

From the starting whistle, Spain dominated while Italy looked to counter. Nico Williams was a terror down the flanks, dominating the one-on-ones and it was no surprise that the move that led to the goal originated from him.

His cross flicked on by Alvaro Morata; Gianluigi Donnarumma could only get fingertips to the header and the ball rebounded in off Riccardo Calafiori, who had seemed like he was getting ready to chase down the loose ball. The leading scorer of Euro 2024, own goal, had added another one to his tally and it proved to be the difference between the heavyweights.

The other unfortunate players to score own goals are Germany’s Antonio Rudiger, Austria’s Maximilian Wober, the Czech Republic’s Robin Hranac and Albania’s Klaus Gjasula. These five have come from just 18 games so far and the tournament record of 11 (at Euro 2020) might come under threat.

But no one who watched the game will tell you that Spain did not deserve the slice of luck. They played the kind of football that wins fans over — there was pace, there was intent and most importantly, there was no just holding on to the ball.

They dominated the main stats — had more possession (57%), took more shots (12 to 3) and had more shots on target too (8 to 1). But beyond the numbers, it is the manner in which the game flows that is a true measure of dominance. One team was constantly on the attack and the other was simply being reactive.

"This was our best performance since I became coach,” said Spain coach Luis de la Fuente. “We played well against Italy in the [2022/23] Nations League, but I think this was a more complete performance. I'm very proud of the result and the way in which we won this match, but it's a very challenging tournament. We were superior across the board. I have so much respect for Italy; they had some difficulties tonight, but part of that is because we played so well."

One can't fault the defending champions for effort. They put their bodies on the lines and ran themselves into the ground but too often they seemed to get sucked in Spain’s pace; too often were they simply trying to plug the gaps. It was something that Denmark had done so well against England in an earlier game on Thursday but the Italians constantly seemed to be out of shape.

"There were too many gaps, all over the pitch,” Italy coach Luciano Spalletti. “We were constantly stretched; we were never able to squeeze the gaps between the various units and they were able to causes us problems. They caused us more problems than the scoreline suggests – let's not beat around the bush."

In a game that Spain manager la Fuente had described as a “European Clasico” in the build-up, his players certainly ramped things. And if they didn’t get more goals then that was sorely down to the brilliance of Donnarumma in the Italian goal. But no keeper likes a busy game.

"Honestly, I don't care about my saves – I was hoping for a different result and a different performance,” said Donnarumma after the match. “We missed too many easy passes and put in too little quality and, if you miss that much, they punish you."

Spain have now won three games in a row against Italy and are unbeaten in the last six matches between the sides (W4, D2). And this is a stat that the Azzurri would love to set right.

But at the moment, Italy will want to focus on the challenge that lies ahead of them. Between them and a place in the Round of 16 lie gritty Croatia and that is never easy. Spain, on the other hand, will want to use this victory to boost their spirits and climb even higher.

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