Spain vs. Italy Odds & Predictions
Last Time Out:
Spain drew 1-1 with Switzerland and prevailed on penalties; Italy beat Belgium 2-1.
Spain beat Italy 3-0 on Sept. 2, 2017, at Bernabeu in Madrid.
About the Matchup:
It's fitting that the final step between Italy and a return to a major tournament final is Spain because the Spaniards were the reason Italy wasn't at the 2018 World Cup. The sides were in the same qualification group, and Spain’s win and draw against Italy in two matches made the difference, as Spain qualified automatically and Italy had to try and fail to break down Sweden’s stubborn defense in the playoffs. But since that failure, Italy has reinvented itself under Roberto Mancini, and the Azzurri now sit one win away from returning to the final, where they lost in both 2000 and 2012. But Spain also enters with revenge on its mind. La Furia Roja looked to be on track for a fine showing at the 2016 Euros, but then a loss to Croatia dropped them to second in their group, setting up a matchup with Italy. The Azzurri shut down Spain for a 2-0 win, signaling the end of the road for what was the two-time defending champions of Europe. The European title hasn’t left the Iberian Peninsula since Greece’s shock win in 2004 over Portugal, and a Spanish defeat would make this the first final since 2000 to be contested with neither Spain nor Portugal involved.
The possession has been there for Spain, but the finishing has not. Spain was able to take apart a desperate Slovakia in its final group stage match and punished Croatia pretty well, but outside of that, Spain has just two goals in its other three games. The Spanish strategy is based almost entirely of not being able to lose if the other team never sees the ball, but Spain’s lack of finishing has allowed both Poland and Switzerland to climb back into matches with a single goal. Against Croatia, five goals became necessary because Spain went to sleep in the final five minutes and failed to close the door, allowing two goals to force extra time. Spain has the talent to reach the final, but they've not shown the killer instinct that's needed to put good teams away, nor have they shown the steel determination to hold the lead once they get ahead. Spain has actually never trailed during this tournament, but the only actual win for La Furia Roja was against an overmatched Slovakia that knew it was beaten as soon as it let in the first goal. In three other matches, Spain has scored first and then allowed its opponents back into the game.
The Azzurri finally conceded in regulation on a penalty against Belgium, but the fact that it took the No. 1 ranked team in the world to do that speaks to just how good Italy’s defense has been under Mancini. Because Austria’s goal came in extra time (which, for betting purposes, doesn’t count), Italy technically made it 11 straight matches without giving up a goal until Belgium won a penalty and slotted it home. During that stretch, the Italians have been able to frustrate multiple teams that were able to penetrate Spain’s defense, such as Poland and Switzerland. Both teams met the Swiss at this tournament, and while Spain barely survived in penalties, Italy took it to the Red Crosses with a 3-0 hammering. The big question for the Azzurri is whether they can stay patient. Italy is a young team that hasn’t been to this level before, as the Azzurri haven’t made it past the quarterfinals of any major tournament since 2012. Spain plays a style that demands patience because there aren't going to be a lot of opportunities to win the ball off of them. Once Italy manages it, however, finding the right man, namely Ciro Immobile or Lorenzo Insigne, is critical. One opportunity is all Italy needs to punish Spain, and the Italians had no trouble waiting for their moments against Turkey and Belgium.
Dan's Score Prediction:
I still believe in the Italian defense, and I really don’t believe in Spain. The Spaniards are honestly fortunate to still be in the tournament, as Switzerland absolutely choked away its penalty shootout. Sometimes, teams take a lifeline they didn’t deserve and run with it, but other times, they get what they deserve in the very next match against an opponent that isn’t going to wilt. This one feels like the latter. I’m backing Italy to claim a 2-0 victory at +1000 and reach the final.