Italy take on Spain in the first Euro 2020 semi-final clash, the encounter a repeat of the 2012 final that saw La Roja run out 4-0 winners.
The two nations have had differing routes to the last four, Spain shaking off a slow start to suddenly spark of glut of goals, while Italy have no doubt been the tournament’s most consistent performers, having hardly had a wobble as yet.
Luis Enrique’s side just about managed to squeeze past Switzerland in the quarter-final’s, despite some Yann Sommer heroics, while Roberto Mancini’s men held off a much-fancied Belgium side with a real defensive masterclass.
As these two great nations prepare to meet for a fourth European Championship’s in a row, we’ve picked our Italy v Spain combined XI.
Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Donnarumma – Italy
Spanish counterpart Unai Simon may have been the penalty shootout hero against the Swiss, yet there is simply no way he could earn a place in this team ahead of Gianluigi Donnarumma, the Italian arguably one of the best in the world despite still being only 22.
The current free agent has already made over 250 club appearances in all competitions, while he’s also already featured 31 times for his country, after making his national team debut at the age of just 17 in 2016.
He may not be winning any popularity contests back at AC Milan for his refusal to sign a new deal at the club – the player looking set to join Paris Saint-Germain this summer – yet he must be winning over the Italian fanbase with a string of fine displays at the current tournament.
Much like his namesake Gigi Buffon, Donnarumma could well help his side to major tournament glory and remain Italy’s undisputed number one for the next 10-15 years.
Right-back: Cesar Azpilicueta – Spain
The Chelsea defender has been criminally underused at international level despite his remarkable consistency at Stamford Bridge, having not received a call-up since November 2018 prior to his Euro 2020 inclusion.
With Luis Enrique favouring usual midfielder Marcos Llorente at right-back in the opening two group games, Azpi was forced to bide his time for start, yet made his mark in the 5-0 thrashing of Slovakia, before scoring Spain’s second in the enthralling 5-3 win over Croatia in the last-16.
The 31-year-old may not quite bomb forward quite as frequently as many modern day full-back’s, but as his header against Zlatko Dalic’s side proved, he’s adept at timing the right moments to make that surge down the right flank.
In what is a young and inexperienced side, the calming presence of the Champions League winner is pivotal.
Centre-back: Giorgio Chiellini – Italy
One half of Italy’s veteran Juventus centre-back duo, Giorgio Chiellini remains an integral force for his country, leading the side the only way he knows how – with relentless desire and a passion that seemingly won’t wilt.
The sight of the 36-year-old attacking every ball into the box is a real joy to behold, as too is his jubilation with every opposition attack that is thwarted and for every striker that is left empty-handed.
Against Belgium, the old-timer hardly gave in-form forward Romelu Lukaku a sniff, while his seeming desperation to cling on for the win appeared to rub off on his teammates, who look to have developed a real grit and drive that the Italy of recent years have been lacking.
Centre-back: Leonardo Bonucci – Italy
Alongside his slightly more senior teammate, Leonardo Bonucci is just about the calmer presence, but also matches his partner in crime with that similar unerring determination to win, a factor that means both are simply indispensable – despite their combined age of 70.
The 34-year-old is not only a committed defender, but is also a real threat on the ball, having the knack of spraying passes to his forward line in the same manner as that of a playmaking midfielder.
A word must also be said for Spain’s Aymeric Laporte who has slotted in beautifully after switching allegiances from France, although after conceding three against Croatia and being involved in the mix-up for Switzerland’s goal last time out, he’s just been edged by the Juve man.
Leonardo Bonucci is 34.🇮🇹
Giorgio Chiellini is 36.🇮🇹
Still the best centre-back pairing in the world. pic.twitter.com/spYrnXJXNA
— Next Better Man (@Donald_InDenial) July 4, 2021
Left-back: Jordi Alba – Spain
It must be said that this spot would almost certainly have gone to Italy star Leonardo Spinazzola following a superb string of displays for the Roma man in the competition, before a cruel achilles injury late on against Belgium curtailed his tournament and looks set to keep him out of action for a lengthy period.
In his absence, the next best thing ain’t too bad either, Barcelona man Jordi Alba having somewhat recovered his reputation with his impressive showings thus far, the 32-year-old a constant threat down the left flank.
There’s no doubting that he’s been at the centre of criticism at the Nou Camp in recent years, yet he remains difficult to dislodge for both club and country, while he also has a European Championship medal under his belt having netted in the showpiece against Italy in 2012.
Midfield: Nicolo Barella – Italy
With both sides having a wealth of midfield talent to choose from, attempting to make the right selection isn’t easy, yet it’s difficult to deny that Nicolo Barella has had anything but a superb tournament thus far.
Fresh off the back of a Scudetto win with Inter Milan, the 24-year-old has transferred his stellar club form to the international stage with consummate ease and has showcased an all-round midfield ability that has become a rarity in the modern game.
Comfortable in possession, the former Cagliari man is also adept at making the difference in the final third, as he proved with his superbly taken goal in the quarter-final win over Roberto Martinez’s side.
Just a reminder ahead of tonight’s #Euro2020 semi-final that the last time Chiesa and Barella played Spain, they combined to produce this:
— These Football Times (@thesefootytimes) July 6, 2021
Midfield: Marco Verratti – Italy
There’s a strong case for Chelsea man Jorginho to earn an inclusion, yet Marco Verratti is simply too good to miss out, having elevated the side since his return from injury in the final group game against Wales.
That clash saw the PSG midfielder tee up Matteo Pessina for the only goal of the game, while he also laid on the assist for Barella’s opener against Belgium, demonstrating just why he is regarded as one of the best in the world in his position.
It’s testament to his quality that he managed to force his way back into the side, having dislodged Manuel Locatelli – who can count himself very unlucky – from the starting XI, despite the Sassuolo man netting a brace in the second group game against Switzerland.
Midfield: Pedri – Spain
The final midfield slot simply has to go the Barcelona teenager, such has been the ease at which he has adjusted to life at both club and country, despite having only played in the Spanish second tier at Las Palmas prior to this season.
Having become a key man under Ronald Koeman in Catalonia, the 18-year-old is now a guaranteed starter for his country, keeping out the likes of Thiago Alcantara and Marcos Llorente to partner both Koke and Sergio Busquets in a well balanced midfield trio.
While it’s no doubt been a bold call to include the youngster by Luis Enrique, it was certainly no act of blind faith, Pedri having more than repaid that trust with a succession of impressive showings that have showcased both his remarkable maturity, but also his ability to repeatedly create chances for his teammates.
Not that they can always take them, mind.
🗣️ César Azpilicueta: “The guy who’s surprised me most at this tournament is Pedri. He can do anything he likes with the ball. He’s got SUCH confidence and you can see that when he’s on the pitch.”#EURO2020 pic.twitter.com/uzzWXG7K8F
— UEFA EURO 2020 (@EURO2020) July 6, 2021
Right-wing: Federico Chiesa – Italy
The Juventus winger – son of former Italy international Enrico Chiesa – has had to fight his way into Roberto Mancini’s side, yet appears to have won the battle with Domenico Berardi for a place on the right-flank and has also earned a spot in our selection.
In truth, neither side quite has the quality of attacking talents of years gone by, although there is something increasing likeable about the 23-year-old’s displays, with his relentless desire to find the fastest route to goal.
His key moment of the tournament undoubtedly came in the last-16 win over Austria, as he gave his side an extra-time lead after superbly cutting in off the right to fire past Daniel Bachmann, before Matteo Pessina doubled that lead moments later.
Left-wing: Lorenzo Insigne – Italy
On the opposite flank we’ve opted for Napoli’s diminutive winger, Lorenzo Insigne, the 5 ft 4 Italian enjoying a really special tournament as one of the key cogs in Mancini’s machine.
Having netted a career-best 19 Serie A goals last season, the 30-year-old is unsurprisingly full of confidence, as shown by his stunning strike against the Belgians.
As he had done in the opening game win over Turkey, Insigne cut in off the left before unleashing a fierce curling effort that sailed past Thibaut Courtois, that strike ultimately proving the winning goal despite Belgium pulling one back moments later.
They really lifted Lorenzo Insigne up to flick Donnarumma’s ears 😂
— B/R Football (@brfootball) July 6, 2021
While he will face a stern test up against Cesar Azpilicueta in the semi-final clash at Wembley, at present the forward seems to fancy his chances up against anyone and looks to be the man to make the difference in the final third for Italy.
Forward: Ferran Torres – Spain
The Manchester City man may have featured prominently on the right in the tournament thus far, yet he gets a place in our side through the middle, ahead of a selection of strikers who just haven’t quite found their form at Euro 2020.
Ciro Immobile has netted twice for the Italians, yet looked way off the pace last time out, while both Alvaro Morata and Gerard Moreno have almost been comically poor thus far, both men missing a succession of chances, while they’ve also both squandered opportunities from the penalty spot.
As for Torres, well his reputation appears to grow with each passing game, having previously announced his name on the international stage with a blistering hat-trick against Germany in the Nations League last autumn.
The 21-year-old ended his debut campaign at the Etihad with 13 goals in 36 games in all competitions, while he currently has a fine international record with 8 goals in 16 appearances, two of those strikes having come at this tournament.
With a lot of uncertainty over which attacking talents will remain at the club next season, the former Valencia man is doing himself no harm towards becoming a more regular presence under Pep Guardiola.