The Spanish national team is moving on to the UEFA Nations League Final thanks to a 2-1 win over Italy at San Siro on Wednesday’s semi-final. La Roja came into the game missing key players due to injury, but Luis Enrique’s team ended Italy’s record-setting 37-game unbeaten streak, and Barcelona teenage midfielder Gavi was one of the stars of the show and helped the Spaniards pull off the upset at the home of the European champions.
The first half followed a very similar script to the EURO 2020 semi-final at Wembley three months ago: Spain had the ball and the initiative while Italy defended with great intensity and looked to force mistakes to create chances. Both teams executed their strategies well early on, and we had a high-level contest from the start.
Spain had the edge in midfield thanks in no small part to an amazing performance from Gavi, who showed zero fear in the big stage and showed the great intensity we’ve seen at Barcelona. The teenager was all over the pitch on both ends, constantly getting on the ball and not shying away from the physical nature of the game.
Spain scored first after a glorious cross from Mikel Oyarzabal was met by the shin of Ferran Torres, who directed the ball into the net to give La Roja the lead. Italy responded quickly and had two excellent chances, with Bernardeschi hitting the post and Lorenzo Insigne missing a golden chance inside the box.
The final five minutes of the first half were crucial: first Leonardo Bonucci was sent off after receiving a second yellow card for an elbow on Sergio Busquets’ neck, and another Oyarzabal cross found Torres and this time the Manchester City striker headed it home to give La Roja a two-goal lead.
At halftime, the Spaniards were winning and Italy were down to 10, and the underdogs were just 45 minutes away from the Final.
After all the energy expended in the first half, it would always be a tough task for Italy to remain as intense with 10 men and it showed early on in the final period. As hard as they tried, the Azzurri could not get close to Spain in possession and La Roja went back to the days of Vicente Del Bosque and passed the ball to death.
Busquets and Gavi were always on the ball and the visitors kept moving it from side to side, and although they couldn’t create any chances they achieved the main goal of making Italy more and more tired. The hosts eventually got sick of running and started kicking people, and the game got very physical requiring the referee to dish out some yellow cards to get things under control.
As we reached the final 10 minutes, it seemed as though Spain would cruise to the final whistle, but Federico Chiesa showed amazing desire to win the ball off Pau Torres in the halfway line and launch an improbable counter-attack before giving Lorenzo Pellegrini a tap-in, and Italy were suddenly back in the game.
But Spain did a great job holding on to the ball in added time, and the final whistle came to end a brilliant semi-final and a fantastic win for the underdogs. To beat the European champions in San Siro with all the injuries coming into this one is an amazing feat for Luis Enrique’s team. Belgium or France await in the Final, and it’ll be fun.
Italy: Donnarumma; Di Lorenzo, Bonucci, Bastoni, Emerson; Barella (Calabria 72’), Jorginho (Pellegrini 64’), Verratti (Locatelli 58’); Chiesa, Bernardeschi (Chiellini 46’), Insigne (Kean 58’)
Goal: Pellegrini (83’)
Red Card: Bonucci (42’)
Spain: Simón; Azpilicueta, Laporte, Pau, Alonso; Gavi (Roberto 83’), Busquets, Koke (Merino 75’); Sarabia (Bryan Gil 75’); Ferran (Yeremi 49’), Oyarzabal
Goals: Ferran (17’, 45+2’)