The Spain-Italy are already a classic of the European Cups; success smiled at La Roja in 2008 and 2012, but switched sides in 2016
The best Spain of all time, the one that achieved the triple crown with its consecutive titles in two European Cups and a World Cup, was born on June 22, 2008 in Vienna, when it defeated Italy in the quarterfinals of that continental tournament in the penalty shootout.
Next Tuesday, in London, La Roja of a new generation, the one who came undercover to this Euro from the pandemic without great expectations, you will have the opportunity to take a giant step and put the national team at the top again. It will be again against the ‘azzurra’, now in the semifinals.
The Spanish-Italian connection between the Austrian and British capitals has two intermediate stations. Kiev in 2012, in which success smiled, and in what way, to Spain in the final. And Paris, five years ago, when Italy cut it down in the second round and started a reconstruction that has been slow to crystallize.
Until the extension ended, the Vienna match (0-0) had responded to the usual script between both teams. Spain proposes everything and Italy takes the cat to the water with a stingy game, without any proposal.
But at some point football had to do justice to La Roja after so many troubles. And fate decided that it was at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion in a penalty shoot-out that is now part of history.
When Cesc, after a magical performance by Iker Casillas under the sticks, transformed the maximum penalty that gave the classification to the next round hundreds of ghosts from the past were blown up in the Viennese night. Goodbye to bad luck. The fans and the players celebrated it as if it were a title – finally it was after overwhelming Russia in the semifinal and winning by the minimum with a goal from Fernando Torres in the decisive clash. Luis Aragonés had worked the miracle.
Four years later, after rising to the planetary level in South Africa under the command of Vicente del Bosque, the team reached the continental event of Poland and Ukraine with the aim of chaining trophies in the European Championship, the World Cup and the European Championship, an unprecedented achievement until then.
The draw included Spain and Italy in the same group, who met in Gdansk. Draw one in a strange meeting, very tactical, and with the engine at half throttle for fear of losing.
On July 1 they met again at the Olympic stadium in Kiev, in the grand final. Under the baton of an immeasurable Xavi, the magic of an Iniesta touched by the gods and the power of Sergio Ramos in the axis of defense, an unrepeatable Spain gave a recital of touch and depth that unraveled the Italians until they erased them from the map. That 4-0 was the sublimation of a golden generation on a pitch. The win still stings among the ‘azzurri’.
At the end of the meeting, Andrea Pirlo, the soul of Italy, acknowledged that he did not remember having suffered so much in his professional career. If he looked to his right, he said, he saw Xavi. If he did it to his left, too. And every time he turned around, the same thing happened to him. That night, if he fell asleep, he must have had thoughts with the Barcelona midfielder, who uncovered in that match after having signed a discreet tournament until then.
The four goals perfectly summed up the soccer that dominated the world. The one who opened the can, de Silva, was a prodigy of technique and speed that was born from a masterful pass from Iniesta to Cesc.
The second was scored by Jordi Alba after an extraordinary service from Xavi. The ball that Torres took advantage of to overcome Buffon also came out of his boots. And the one that ended with both the debutant Mata in another uncheck from Madrid. Xavi had declared the day before that he would have liked to be “more transcendent” in the tournament. In the final it was.
The World Cup event in Brazil in 2014 triggered the alarms of wear and tear, that the best Spanish team of all time could die of success if a non-traumatic renovation was not worked on soon. And with that aura he arrived at the European Championship in France, where his potential at that time was more by name than by football. La Roja was second in their group and the eighth crossing brought them together again with Italy, a clash with already classic overtones. The transalpinos, who yearned for revenge, had begun their reconstruction after the Kiev shipwreck and presented a well-armed bloc. Spain, however, was a sea of doubts. Defeat (2-0) at Saint Dennis and goodbye to an era.
The 2018 World Cup in Russia was also to forget. But three years after that grotesque – with the frightened of Julen Lopetegui when it became known that he had signed for Real Madrid – a new opportunity arrives. And again against a rising Italy. The fifth duel in thirteen years. So many pending accounts …