A year ago, they met in Kiev in the final of EURO 2012; Spain easily beat Italy, 4-0. On Thursday evening in a hot and humid Fortaleza, they met in the semifinals of the FIFA Confederations Cup; Spain beat Italy in a penalty shootout to advance to play Brazil in the final on Sunday.
Italy came into the game knowing it had to play much better – especially on defense – while Spain had very little trouble during the group stage, as it won each of its three games. To counter and bog down Spain’s midfield while sniffling their attacking prowess, Italy coach Cesare Prandelli made a tactical switch from a 4-3-2-1 formation to a 3-5-2 formation.
The tactical switch meant that Italy would try and bog down Spain’s midfield and give its defense ample support in the process. This switch proved to be a very good one by Prandelli; even though Spain had around 70 percent of the ball possession in the first half, it only had one shot on target at goal.
On the other hand, Italy had the best and most dangerous scoring chances in the first half, but it missed three clear cut chances — two misfired and one saved by Iker Casillas at point-blank range. In attack, Italy was effective with possession, as Christian Maggio and Antonio Candreva were dangerous as a duo down the left flank while Emanuele Giaccherini once again proved that he warranted playing, as he turned in a very good performance.
The second half saw Italy drop off in its attacking efficiency as the heat and humidity started to wear down the Azzurri players. That said, Spain continued to struggle with having any sort of effective attacking play and would only finally begin to look like Spain when Jesus Navas came in as a substitute. His introduction opened space on the wings and stretched the Italian defense.
This was most noticeable as the game went into extra time and Spain had a number of clear cut chances which it had missed seeing being scored. Neither team would score and the game would go into penalty kicks to determine a winner to face Brazil on Sunday.
Both teams penalty kick takers showed much resolve, executed well taken shots and scored penalty kicks which no keeper was going to be able to stop. At 6-6 apiece, we had the first miss as Leandro Bonucci struck one that went high over the crossbar and Navas would make him pay as he stepped up and scored the winner for Spain, knocking off Italy just like in EURO 2008 when Spain beat Italy in similar fashion.
Once again, while Italy was the better team for most of the game, it was not able to score that goal(s) which would reflect this on the scoreline, and while Alberto Gilardino played well, the absence of Mario Balotelli being most noticeable on balls played into the area that required his scoring instincts.
For Spain, they will head into the final having one less day of rest and having played more minutes than Brazil. Also, it is also expected to be just as warm in Rio on Sunday as it was in Fortaleza which will not help the physical condition of the Spanish players.
For Brazil, a final game that looked like only 24 hours ago they could be routed and embarrassed, now they stand to be favorites given their physical condition will be better than that of Spain.