Paris (AFP) – Euro 2016’s joint top scorer Alvaro Morata expects Spain to be taken to the limit by old foes Italy if they are to remain on course to win a third consecutive European Championship.
Spain thrashed Italy 4-0 in the Euro 2012 final four years ago and also ousted the Azzurri on penalties at the quarter-final stage in 2008 on course to winning their first major trophy for 44 years.
Fresh from sealing his return to Real Madrid for 30 million euros ($33 million), Morata will come up against a host of former Juventus teammates, who are determined to shut out the 23-year-old.
“Italy are one of the strongest teams there are,” said Morata.
“They work a lot on tactics, but we have the players to score more goals, even if they are one of the national teams that defends the best.
“We have to show that we are Spain, the champions.”
Before winning back-to-back Euros and a maiden World Cup in 2010, Spain suffered an inferiority complex with Italy having never beaten them in five tries at major finals.
However, they have since also defeated the Italians at the 2013 Confederations Cup in a run of just one defeat in their last 11 meetings.
Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas has been a constant menace to the Azzurri. He scored the winning penalty in 2008, Spain’s equaliser in a 1-1 draw to open Euro 2012 and then set up David Silva’s opener in the final.
Fabregas will also be coming up against his future manager as Italian boss Antonio Conte will take over at Stamford Bridge next season.
Spain started the tournament in great form, sweeping aside the Czech Republic and Turkey.
However, a shock 2-1 defeat to Croatia in Bordeaux on Tuesday cost Vicente Del Bosque’s men top spot in Group D and a much easier route to the final.
Yet, Conte claims he would prefer to have faced an undefeated Spain side that could have been complacent.
“I think defeat always gives you a bit more in terms of focus, concentration and anger,” said Conte.
“I would prefer Spain to have a bit more of a soft centre on the back of a winning run.”
– Tough route –
Whoever emerges victorious in Paris faces another huge task in world champions Germany in the quarter-finals on July 2.
And Fabregas insisted Spain must get back to the level they showed in their opening two games.
“We need to get back to playing our best football because they will not stop running and fight for every ball,” added Fabregas.
“They have a very strong defence and they know how to take their chances.”
Italy have been dealt a huge blow with influential midfielder Antonio Candreva ruled out due to a groin injury.
However, Conte will welcome back a host of players rested for their 1-0 defeat to the Republic of Ireland on Wednesday.
The former Juventus boss made eight changes with qualification to the last 16 as Group E winners already assured.
Conte was keen to play up Italy’s tag as underdogs, but insisted “nothing is impossible” for a side that so impressed in opening their campaign with a 2-0 win over Belgium.
“Nothing is impossible, otherwise everything would be too easy. It would be a shame to give up every time the odds are against you.”
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