Euro 2024 is providing another thrilling chapter in the storied rivalry between Italy and Spain. This Mediterranean derby, the 41st clash between the two teams since the 1920s, has seen ‘La Furia Roja’ emerge victorious 13 times; the Azzurri claim 11 wins and a total of 14 draws. The rich history and intense competition between these two powerhouses make this match a must-watch, filled with end-to-end drama.

Nevertheless, Spanish head coach Luis de La Fuente expects to challenge with horizontal possession. Since 2013, he has been the ‘entrenador’ of Spain’s U19, U21 and U23 squads, rising with the players into the national team in Euro 2024.

Despite Spain having a shoo-in on Italy from defeating them in the final of Euro 2012, Spanish soccer has been inferior to Italian soccer in more recent years in European play. Italy eliminated ‘La Furia Roja’ in the semifinals and quarterfinals of Euro 2020 and Euro 2016, respectively.

These two powerhouses collide in their eighth encounter at the Euros in the competition’s history. As always, this game is an exhilarating spectacle for pundits paying close attention to Group B. Apart from Spain’s defeat to Scotland in the qualifying rounds, ‘La Roja’ had dominated their campaign with seven victories.

Capello’s thoughts on the center-back duo

Leading up to the match, former Juventus midfielder and manager Fabio Capello, renowned for his coaching of Roma’s Scudetto in 2001, shared his thoughts.

“The Bastoni-Calafiori partnership, with its solid defensive capabilities, could be a formidable force,” Capello suggested. “However, they might face challenges in one-on-one situations with rapid strikers, as fast as bullets. The next challenge is Alvaro Morata, who made a strong debut by scoring against Croatia,” 

Capello’s concerns about the speed of Alessandro Bastoni and Riccardo Calafiori in a defensive duo might be valid. However, Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Federico Dimarco must compensate for this supposed lack of pacing. The wingbacks, in particular, need to be alert to Morata’s rapidity during counter-pressing. This defensive responsibility could force them to be more cautious in their offensive play on the wings. As a result, Federico Chiesa and Davide Frattesi would need to step up and compensate for where Di Lorenzo and Dimarco might fall behind.

battle for possession

Italy can handle talent when it has phenomenal tactics. For example, when Italy eliminated Spain in Euro 2020, the Italians only held 29% of possession and had half as many shot attempts as the Spaniards. Further back, when Italy eliminated Spain at Euro 2016, the Azzurri only had 39% possession and half as many set pieces as La Roja. However, they still managed to beat Spain 2-0.

“Italians know how to win.” Roma midfielder Bryan Cristante said. “We can have our say against anyone.”

Cristante’s words are not braggadocio; Italy’s history of winning is a class act. The Roma midfielder came in as a tactical substitute in the 77th minute against Albania.

Italy has repeatedly proven that maintaining possession in a match brings the illusion of control. Moreover, the smallest mistouch can result in a counterattack for the opposition. However, once Italy or Spain snipes the opponent’s goalmouth using vertical tactics, the Azzurri and La Furia Roja can rely on controlling the game.

“You decide to control the game’s flow,” Spalletti said. “But if it becomes a 50/50 match, you have no choice.” Spalletti added, “Spain are going to squeeze us more. They bite and press. So, there may be a way to play behind their defensive line.”

Lost possession: Hesitant attack

During Italy’s 2-1 victory against Albania, the Azzurri dominated possession with a whopping 69%. Nevertheless, maintaining possession is counterproductive if it does not lead to creating opportunities. Luciano Spalletti declared that his squad was hesitant to attack during those minutes of domination.

“We prepared the build-up well but then changed our minds and passed it backward,” Spalletti said. “The build-up needs to actually take us somewhere.”

Spalletti’s words apply to Spain’s former style of possessional play. Nevertheless, Italy’s possession is a testament to its cohesion on the field. When Italy lost possession against Albania, it instantly defended in the final third. When the opposing team’s defense gains possession, its backline spreads out, opening lanes for ‘through-balls.’ By executing a counter-press and reclaiming the ball quickly, it can cause chaos in its defensive formation.

Errors and Woes

On matchday one against Croatia, Spain’s Fabian Ruiz displayed impressive skill with his footwork and precision. However, Alvaro Morata’s first goal against Croatia resulted from a defensive error—Croatia’s high pressing left gaps in their defense. Moreover, Dominik Livaković could have performed better in goal for Croatia. Ultimately, Croatia’s weakness rather than Spain’s strength led to the match’s outcome.

The epic Mediterranean Derby continues on June 20 at Veltins Arena in Gelsenkirchen, Germany.


Euro 2024

Here are some resources to get you ready for Euros!
Euro Bracket: Download a free PDF bracket for the tournament
Euro 2024 Schedule: Full schedule of all games for the 2024 tournament
How to watch: Information on where to find the games on TV and streaming
How to Stream Learn how you can stream Euro games live in 2024
2024 Soccer Calendar: Get the lowdown on what will be a busy year in soccer