This fixture has a lot of history, and much of it is bitter and ugly. These two southern European footballing giants have a rivalry to match any local league derby. In the World Cup of 1994, Roberto Baggio’s 88th-minute goal and referee Sándor Puhl not seeing Mauro Tassotti elbowing Luis Enrique in the penalty area, meant that Spain left the U.S. seething. Although Tassotti received an eight-game ban, many Spaniards believed that the massive crowds of Italian Americans swayed the officials that day.
When the two met in Euro 2008, the image of a bloody Luis Enrique was on all the front pages of the Spanish newspapers and spurred the Spaniards to knock out the Italians, albeit on penalties after a 0-0 draw, and go on to win the tournament.
Four years later, Spain added a second win in a row and they did it by beating Italy in the final comfortably 4-0. Spaniards like to think they are the antithesis of Italian football, which they deem as defensive, dirty, cynical and boring.
Spain lost some the gloss they gained by losing to Croatia 2-1 after they convincingly beat Turkey 3-0 after flattering to deceive when they scraped past the Czech Republic in the first game. The Croatia game was the first time they lost at the Euros in 14 matches and had not conceded in their previous seven EURO finals fixtures, since a 1-1 draw with Italy in 2012.
Italy also had a mini-run disrupted in their final game when a defeat to the Republic of Ireland halted a run of four straight victories for Antonio Conte’s side, during which they had not conceded a single goal.
However, the defeat to Ireland was with a weakened team, with many stars rested by Conte.
Their first game brought about the first shock of the tournament when an ageing Italian side beat a Belgium side which was number two in the Fifa rankings and full of promise. Then they beat a very weak Sweden side 1-0.
This will once again pit two footballing giants against each other, where there is a lot of bad blood and history.
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