Saturday June 25 2016
What Italy-Spain is and isn't

There is much more than tactics to Italy-Spain, argues Andrea Tallarita, and most of it lies beneath the surface.

Italy-Spain is not a game that brings out the best in us. It's not fair play and after-match drinks, it's not Scrabble with your grandparents, it's not the game you want on Christmas or Mother's Day or honeymoons. Croatia's Ivan Perisic, who scored the goal to send La Roja their way, crossed an Italian journalist after the game: 'You guys should be grateful,' he grinned. 'Now you don't have to play Croatia!' Any other team, and the Italians would laugh at the joke. Not this time, Ivan. You'd better hope Italy don't come back your way in the final.

Italy-Spain is not tiki-taka against catenaccio, it's opulence versus resurgence. It's the established church against the heathen at the gate. It's the fading majesty of Andres Iniesta, weighed down not by 32 years of age but by dozens of trophies, trying to undo the Renaissance of the Italian defence: gold versus iron. It's Real Madrid and Juventus poster-boy Alvaro Morata against the Cinderella Men that are Italy's forwards: great expectations against downtrodden grit.

Italy-Spain is not a Round of 16, it's an accidental final, a rerun of the Euro 2012 showdown when La Roja won it 4-0. It's an opportunity to make this tournament worth it, a chance for Coach Antonio Conte to wipe out the disillusionment and endear the fans. Hold no punches, my captain, take no prisoners. Who cares if they lose the game after that 3-0 to Germany? Win this one and we're good, Antonio. The battle is worth the campaign.

And that's because Italy-Spain is not just a rivalry between two equal powers, it's rankling resentment and bitterness and envy. It's one team stumbling in the dark for the past ten years, looking for the laurel crown that was wrenched from its head, while the other team takes everything, all the drinks at the party and every last crumb of the cake. It's the reason why the means no longer matter, boys. What may or may not happen after this game is of no relevance to us. Especially not this time, when the path ahead makes it look like nasty old Sepp Blatter came back and deliberately stacked things against us: Spain first, then Germany, then hosts France. One imagines the final will be played against the Avengers.

Italy-Spain is not pizza versus paella, flamenco versus Opera, guitars versus mandolins or any other trite cliché. Italy-Spain is unemployed youth that leaves home and takes a job in your restaurants and airports and makes your Cappuccino and maybe finds the time to watch the game when they get home. It's the south that took the financial crisis like an uppercut to the jaw, it's football as consolation and communion, it's sport pregnant with populism, it's Gerard Pique's middle finger and Grillo's 'Io tifo Ghana' and Podemos and Virginia Raggi, it's rap music in a language Americans don't understand. It's a church outside of the church.

Italy-Spain is not bad luck, it's fateful revenge. It's not antagonism, it's rage. It's not Las Vegas, it's Vietnam. It's not mud, it's blood. It's not a game: it's sport. And it's as damn good as sport gets.

Have your say...
Hey Jenks.....sorry about your England losing to Iceland today! You may now take foot out of mouth!
on the 28th June, 2016 at 1:34am
Conte the boss sticks it to the haters again. On the road to win the Euros with Eder, Pelle, Giacherini and Parolo.
on the 27th June, 2016 at 7:08pm
We saw a Spain, that struggled at the last World Cup in Brazil, struggled in the first game at the Euro 2016 and lost to Croatia. To put it all straight and based on form, this Spanish team is a far cry of the one that won the World Cup in 2010 and the Euro in 2012 despite having some of the same players.Spain has been on a downward spiral.I can bet my bottom dollar that Italy will win this evening. Time to set the record straight with a big and good payback. Time for Spain to pay the piper.
on the 27th June, 2016 at 12:08pm
@ Jenks.....yes seria B players indeed....i say so far so good....why dont you wait and see how they do against Spain before you spit out your Conte and the players well prepped for Belgium, he will do the same with Spain....I for one am an AZZURI fan first and foremost....I am looking forward to this game even without Candreva....this team has alot of heart....
on the 27th June, 2016 at 1:18am
Dear Football Italia Blog moderator, Why do you censor comments? You delete part of what I responded to Mustafa's comment and his subsequent name-calling of me. How one-sided and double-tongued of you.


ED: We chose to edit rather than delete the entire message due to your racist abuse. Next time we will simply delete the whole thing and ban you.
on the 26th June, 2016 at 11:07pm
This Mustafa clearly does not know football. Of course we know Verratti and Marchisio were injured. Either you read my comments and did not understand, or you did not read at all. Look who was not called up. Conte has a squad mostly made of Serie B players.
on the 26th June, 2016 at 10:31pm
Italy's lack of astuteness in negotiating the draw correctly seems to be getting worse by the second - Belgium have got Hungary, Wales and probably Portugal on the way to the final and we have Spain, Germany and probably France. Of course, Italy have to beat the best to be the best but this team won't get past giant after giant unscathed - eventually they will come unstuck. Let's hope it's not tomorrow. Funnily, I really fancy us against France in the semis; I desperately hope we get that far.
on the 26th June, 2016 at 6:52pm
Luciano, I'm confident that Conte's organized & industrial approach will serve him well in the league. Though I also believe that his approach will see Chelsea struggling against the continental elite in the CL. It still irks me that Jorginho was left in Italy, especially when we see how badly that we are passing and keeping the ball. Oh well, at least the future looks bright with the likes of Verratti, Marchisio, & Jorginho being in our engine room.
on the 26th June, 2016 at 12:24pm
Losing Candreva is a huge blow. He's been our best attacking outlet for several years now, and has caused Spain many problems in recent fixtures. His absence also makes me wonder how effective our 352 will be now from an attacking POV. The left wing position has been a problem and I see no solutions in the squad. I'm equally concerned about our right flank now because as willing as he is, Florenzi's passing, composure, & control can be woeful.
on the 26th June, 2016 at 12:10pm
Candreva out of the Spain match ... ;-(((( and maybe out of the tournament .... ;-((((((((((((((((((((((((((((
on the 26th June, 2016 at 10:45am
Conte's either a genius (tactical masterclass against Belgium) or a fool (playing Bonucci on a yellow card against Ireland and not having one midfielder who can pass the ball - surely Pirlo was worth spot 23!). Abramovich and the GB press will be watching with interest; the journos will be wondering how long Conte will last at Chelsea while the Russian will be wondering how much compensation, if any, he'll have to pay to sack a dud manager! Lots of pressure on Conte. Does he have the cojones?
on the 26th June, 2016 at 9:08am
Hey Siraj. I miss good ol' Chris too, and the folk from CdT. Send them my love.
on the 26th June, 2016 at 4:59am
The more you hate, the more Conte wins. Keep it up haters.
on the 26th June, 2016 at 3:43am
it is not a dream to beat SPAIN!!!
for so many years they were underdogs!
ITALIA does not relay on only one player we are a team FLORENZI could do CANDREVA job too he is talented too!
if some thing unusual would not happen like awarding the pen
or red card for us as long as we concede a goal early enough
most likely we would level!
we have some of the most hard working team(120 KM RUNNING)!
on the 26th June, 2016 at 2:51am
Love seeing you writing football again Andrea. Miss you and chris.

Forza Azzurri
on the 26th June, 2016 at 1:14am
@ Jerks
Judge the players Conte left at home? You ignorant idiot know that Marchisio and Verratti are injured, don't you ?

Or are you just mad because Conte left you at home ?
on the 25th June, 2016 at 10:49pm
with the selections that Conte has made, Spain have the advantage. Giaccherini is horrible in midfield and his lack of passing and running skills will result in a significant amount of turnover ... to a team that will already be winning the possession battle, this is the last thing you want; and yet Conte stands by this choice. Darmian, a good player, is too defensive and will make it harder for us to push the ball into the final third of the opposition. And Parolo offers little in the midfield.
on the 25th June, 2016 at 10:30pm
@jenks. Thank You
on the 25th June, 2016 at 10:16pm
This is not pessimism, it is realism. I think Spain will win.

Judge the manager Conte by the players he has LEFT at home, not the ones he brought to France. Shame on him.

It is free to dream. Just imagine if we had Verratti and Marchisio, along with Bonaventura and Giovinco firing away.
on the 25th June, 2016 at 9:35pm
@Baggio4ever You were probably one of the people whom said we'd crash out after losing all 3 games in the groups too, go be negative about the Azzurri elsewhere.
on the 25th June, 2016 at 7:30pm
Italy is done..Candreva is out and they have absolutely to alternative plan or strategy that can compete with Spain. I hope they won't lose more than 4 goals..Spain 4 Italy 0. Blame Conte, the federation because they are ignorant, classless and a bunch of underachievers.... Wake up Federation and make sure your next coach will not bail out on you....
on the 25th June, 2016 at 5:11pm
Excellent sentiments! I am a lone Italian, but I speak for us all, on and off the pitch. This is indeed Italy's chance to avenge itself. We are an historically great football power who have faded over the last decade. It hurts, it's humiliating. We don't like the low placements in the FIFA rankings, nor the world press demeaning our offense, nor Spain's recent victories over us. This is an opportunity to recapture our place of importance in the football world. Forza Italia!
on the 25th June, 2016 at 4:04pm
ITALIA will fight to the end we will threw everything at SPAIN!
we are a proud nation of our achievement through out the history!
we have showed we could stop them scoring in the friendly they barley had any shots on our goal!
ITALIAN mentality is great look at what de biasi did for ALBANIA ,all great coaches like LIPPI said we will do well!
the prediction is ITALIA wins by one goal margin!
i hope CANDREVA will be fit enough the rule is PRIMO NON PRENDERE than score!
on the 25th June, 2016 at 8:20am
What did I just read?
on the 25th June, 2016 at 6:56am

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