Euro 2012 Special: Top five Italy vs Spain clashes

Ahead of the Group C opener between Spain and Italy, lists down the top five competitive clashes between the duo...
It isn’t a contest that stirs up emotions in the same way as other more famous European rivalries, but when reigning European and World champions Spain face Italy on Sunday, it’ll add another chapter to a relatively quiet but significant rivalry that has unfolded over the course of the last century.

Although Vicente Del Bosque’s side go in as tournament favourites, the Spanish have found it tough, both in recent times and in the past, to beat the Italians. Spain’s competitive record versus Italy reads: W1 D4 L5. However, beating Italy on penalties in the quarter-finals of Euro 2008 is still seen as a key moment that led to contrasting fortunes for the two nations in the next few years.

As a stubborn Italy plot revenge on majestic Spain, here’s a look back at the top five most significant competitive matches played between the two European giants.

Italy 7-1 Spain, 1928 Olympic Games Quarter-final replay (Amsterdam)

Italy and Spain had also met in the previous two Olympic Games. The Spanish had won in the consolation round (a round for teams that exited in the quarter-finals) in Antwerp 1920, but Italy had knocked them out in the very first round in Paris 1924. In Amsterdam 1928, the two teams crossed paths in the quarter-final. The Spanish had come into the fixture after thrashing a weak Mexican side 7-1, while Italy had scrapped past France in a seven-goal thriller.

On June 1, the Spanish came back from a half-time deficit to earn a shock 1-1 draw against Italy. Since penalty shootouts hadn’t been introduced back then, the teams met up for a quarter-final replay three days later, where Italy trounced Spain in majestic and humiliating fashion. Till date, this 7-1 defeat is Spain’s worst competitive defeat, only matched by a similar loss to England in a friendly three years later.


Italy 1-0 Spain, 1934 World Cup Quarter-final replay (Italy)

In both countries’ first World Cup appearance in 1934, the Italians needed yet another replay to go past the Spanish on home soil. This was also the first ever replayed match in a World Cup. Unlike six years ago in the Olympic Games, it was the Italians who had to claw back a deficit to force a replay to be played the very next day.

In a highly aggressive replay, the physical nature of Italy’s play meant the Spaniards were left battered and bruised, and some of them couldn’t even continue due to injuries. Guiseppe Meazza – who has one of the most famous stadiums in the world named in honour of him in Milan – scored the only goal to send Italy into the semi-finals. The home side would eventually go onto beat Austria and Czechoslovakia to be crowned World Champions.


Italy 1-0 Spain, Euro 1988 Group Stage (West Germany)

The Spanish had come into this tournament as beaten finalists and runners-up from four years ago, where they had lost to hosts France. After failing to qualify for the previous edition, the Italians had returned to the European Championship in 1988. But both countries’ squads had the best young players in Europe, who had faced each other in the European U-21 Championship final two years prior to this.

The Italians had held West Germany in the opening match, while Spain had overcome Denmark. This meant that the onus was on Italy to secure a win against Spain, but for large stages of a cagey match, a draw looked inevitable with the likes of a young Paolo Maldini exhibiting his potential. This was before former Juventus and Chelsea forward, Gianluca Vialli dummied smartly past the Spanish defence late in the game and nestled the ball into the bottom corner. It eventually led to Spain’s group stage exit, while Italy reached the semi-finals of the tournament.


Italy 2-1 Spain, 1994 World Cup Quarter-final (USA)

The Spaniards were favourites coming into this contest after a strong showing in the competition thus far. On the other hand, Italy had made it through by the skin of their teeth. After being beaten by the Irish in a group game, they had grabbed the last possible knockout place by becoming the fourth (and last) best third-placed team after a poor showing. Italy, again, looked to be heading for an exit in the knockout stage against surprise package of the tournament Nigeria before the brilliant Roberto Baggio struck an equalizer at the stroke of full time and a winner in extra time.

But the Italians held their own in a tight quarter-final that saw Dino Baggio’s spectacular strike give Italy the lead in the first half, before the Spaniards equalized through José Luis Caminero in the second. With Spain sensing victory and dominating possession, Italy relied on counter-attacks, one of which brilliantly turned defence into attack and allowed Roberto Baggio to run through on goal, round off the keeper and slot Italy into the semi-finals with just three minutes to go. The match was marred with controversy late on as Mauro Tassotti’s elbow on Luis Enrique inside the penalty box was missed by the referee. Tassotti was later banned for eight matches.

Roberto Baggio went onto score another brace in the semi-final against Bulgaria before he missed the infamous penalty kick in the shootout to concede the trophy to Brazil.


Spain 0-0 Italy (4-2 pens.), Euro 2008 Quarter-final (Austria-Switzerland)

If you’re a Spanish fan and have been reading in despair, this is what you have been waiting for. Finally, the Spaniards came out on top against the then reigning World Champions Italy and they haven’t looked back ever since. Not only had the Spanish struggled to overcome Italians in the course of their history, they had previously failed thrice in a penalty shootout at this very stage of a major tournament.

So, after Italy had successfully deployed their defensive tactics and resorted to negativity and theatrics to stifle the flair of their opponents, it looked as if the Italians had the psychological upper hand going into the penalty shootouts. With nothing to choose between two great goalkeepers Iker Casillas and Gigi Buffon, it was down to the penalty takers. Spain kept their nerve as Di Natale and De Rossi saw their penalty kicks saved before Cesc Fabregas stepped up to send the Spanish Armada sailing into the semi-finals.

While Italy went onto register a miserable defence of their World Cup crown in South Africa, Spain went on to lift both Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010. Since this penalty shootout, the Spanish Armada has been sailing unharmed for four years. Could this year’s tournament change all that?