Antonio Conte’s Italy demonstrated that tactical brilliance is enough to defeat even the most talented of sides in their 2-0 win over Spain. The Azzurri are now through to the quarterfinals of Euro 2016.
It’s remarkable what team unity can do for a side that lacks both in quality and star talent. A wonderful team atmosphere has allowed this squad to play with confidence and clear organisation, demonstrating urgency and intensity in order to expose the laborious nature of Spain’s passing game.
True to their cliched nature, Italy were impeccable and well-drilled in defense, but they were also ambitious in the attack. Each player on the pitch understood his role and willingly sacrificed himself for the sake of the unit. Whenever possession was won, the man with the ball was offered several options for the pass while remaining alert to any potential danger.
The Azzurri shamelessly squandered several chances, but their opponents had neither the ideas nor the intelligence to overcome their 3-5-2 formation. Italy will now face another familiar foe in Germany in the quarterfinals.
Player Ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Gianluigi Buffon, 7 — Made a terrific save at the start of the second half and again when Gerard Pique came close toward the end of the match. Always alert and concentrated, Buffon is the hero who can be depended on no matter what.
DF Andrea Barzagli, 7 — Ready and aware at all times, Barzagli read the game extremely well, ensuring safety at the back. He boasts the composure of a champion.
DF Leonardo Bonucci, 8 — Put his talent on display in the first half when he intercepted the ball and thrillingly marched forward to initiate a counterattack, swiftly turning defence into attack. Mentally, he was also superb.
DF Giorgio Chiellini, 8 — The warrior who scored the first goal, Chiellini’s speedy reactions, excellent concentration and relentless determination make him impossible to overcome.
MF Alessandro Florenzi, 7 — A wonderful performance, especially in the first half. Familiar with his role, he never stopped running forward and delivered fine crosses and passes into the box. Provided strong service from corners, and never let his offensive ambition distract him from his defensive duties.
MF Marco Parolo, 6 — Made some fine runs into the box, especially during the first half, and contained Spain’s attacking threat. Has put his tendency to foul on display, and must improve his timing moving forward.
MF Daniele De Rossi, 6 — Good in the first half before being taken off in the second, his physical presence hindered Spain from establishing a rhythm. Delivered tidy passes forward and kept Italy ticking.
MF Emanuele Giaccherini, 7 — Occasionally caught losing control of the ball, but his intensity and tactical understanding allowed him to continue to press regardless. Put in some great tackles and positioned himself well in order to deliver threatening strikes. Also came close to scoring.
MF Mattia De Sciglio, 7 — Sublime defending from the wing-back. He got out of tricky situations with almighty grace and possessed the elegance to win back the ball with ease and march forward to create chances.
FW Graziano Pelle, 8 — Did everything he was required to do. He may be aggressive in his attempts to win back possession but he held up play, combined well with teammates and scored the second goal of the night to send Italy through to the quarterfinals.
FW Eder, 7 — Good movements from the player who ran well with the ball to threaten on the counter. Should have done better when challenging one-on-one. However, his technique and tactical understanding made the difference up top.
MF Thiago Motta, 5 — Came on and received a yellow card for his troubles. In general, does not play with the urgency that Conte’s Italy requires.
FW Lorenzo Insigne, N/R — Delightful to watch, his ability to exploit space caused Spain problems at the end.
DF Matteo Darmian, N/R — Only on for a few minutes.
Mina Rzouki appears on BBC 5live, BBC Sportsworld, BT Sports, CNN, ESPN and Football Espana. You can follow her on Twitter @Minarzouki.