It was a rematch of the Euro 2012 final, but even though both teams were mostly the same, it could not have turned any more differently this time. Four years ago, Spain steamrollered their way to a 4-0 win; even Fernando Torres scored. This time, Italy played Spain off the pitch, limiting the holders to arguably their worst performance of the tournament. Whereas Spain might have gotten a bit unlucky against Croatia, they had no hope today.
And it was all down to this man.
homme du match pic.twitter.com/dVLrqpsKbw— philippe (@philousports) June 27, 2016
That's not entirely true of course. It was down to him, living every moment of the game in his little coach's box (and sometimes outside of it), but also down to his team -- actually just "team" might be an understatement -- of well-drilled journeymen, aging soldiers, underwhelming strikers, and the most glorious defensive trio this game has seen in some time.
#Giaccherini: "Today, it was my turn to talk to the team before the match. I said it was a game there to be won with heart." #ITAESP— Italy (@azzurri) June 27, 2016
Giaccherini, Pelle, half-fit De Rossi, whoever Parolo is, plus the two hardest-working wingbacks around shut down's Spain usual midfield dominance. Fabregas and Iniesta still got their touches in, but Italy had by far the better chances. David De Gea made several excellent saves while I can recall Buffon needing to produce something great only once on a stretched effort from Alvaro Morata.
xG map for #ITA-#ESP. Conte has #ITA not just winning, but doing so by attacking right down the gut of good teams. pic.twitter.com/K9PT0j8FbD— Michael Caley (@MC_of_A) June 27, 2016
Italy's goals were exercises in simplicity and getting the basics right. Chiellini poked home after De Gea only managed to parry a rasping free kick straight out in front. There were at least three Italians crashing the net, following the shot, while Spain stood around and watched the ball. Simple stuff, done right.
Italy's second came in the dying moments, on a sweetly executed counter. Italy had threatened several times in such fashion already, and as Spain tried to push forward, this outcome was nearly inevitable. There was a sense that Italy were never going to concede today, and eventually Pelle's surprising quality got them their proper reward.
From a Chelsea perspective, this is the best outcome. Preseason starts in two weeks and the first pre-season match is in 19 days. Fabregas & Co can now begin their holidays -- Azpilicueta didn't play once again but Pedro did get a late cameo, in which he managed one hilarious shot attempt -- while Conte and Italy rumble on. Next up, a huge test against Germany in the quarterfinal.