No contest between two elite international teams offers quite the contrast in styles and apparent parity pre-match as a Spain-Italy clash. Whatever cliché (some of which are outdated) you want to use to badge it - attack versus defence, tiki-taka versus catenaccio - it's a matchup that presents problems for both. And that was the beauty of this last 16 match. No-one really wanted to play the other, and no-one had a mental advantage (more on this later).
That said, Spain's performances against an Italy 3-5-2 have been horrendous. Or any 3-5-2 for that matter. You would have thought, after three previous matches against the Azzurri version, outgoing Coach Vicente Del Bosque would have learned how to adapt. The first group match in Euro 2012 was an even contest, a fair draw. But in the next two - the Confederations Cup 2013 semi-final and the friendly in March earlier this year - Italy were the better team and Spain were fortunate to come away with draws (and a penalty shootout win in the Confederations Cup semi).
Round four was easily the worst of the lot. They had no answer in the first half to Italy finding overloads in every area of the pitch. And although they were more imposing with their style in the second half, Spain could have conceded more than the one late counter-attack goal.
Italy were magnificent - you didn't even realise the much-vaunted Antonio Candreva was missing - but Spain's continued inability to manage a system with three at the back helped matters.
It will be fascinating now to see what Germany are going to do. On paper they are overwhelming favourites, given all the talent they have, but they do not want to play Italy. The mental advantage, irrespective of the players on the pitch, is with the Azzurri: they do, after all, have an undefeated record versus Germany in competitive internationals, a record you will no doubt hear and read about every day from now until kick off. It certainly played a part four years ago at Euro 2012 when, asked pre-match if he would do anything to combat Italy, Germany Coach Joachim Löw was emphatic in saying he wouldn't, and that Germany would play their game. Of course, he then went on to do the exact opposite - changing his team by introducing Toni Kroos to the No.10 role and moving Mesut Özil wide in a bid to stop Andrea Pirlo. Spain, with no previous scarring, didn't change their style at all for the final.
The friendly in March between the two wasn't a contest. Germany dominated the entire game, and could have had more than the four goals they did score. The interesting subplot is that, while Italy played a back three, albeit a more offensive and open one than we will see on Saturday, so did Germany. It's probably the only time they've looked good in a back three, but given how well they played that night, there is potentially a temptation for Löw to change from the back four Germany have played the entire tournament, and with which they clearly look more comfortable. But in doing so, he sends exactly the same message to his players that he sent in 2012 and concedes a mental advantage - that if Germany play their game, and Italy play theirs, he thinks Italy have more chances to win. Let the fun and games begin.