Spain's plot to reconquer Europe faces familiar test in semis

Roberto Mancini's Italian side also seeking redemption

Italy coach Roberto Mancini.
Italy coach Roberto Mancini.
Image: Andreas Gebert

London – Spain's cycle of dominance of European football began and ended with Italy, so it is fitting their hopes of a reconquest will see them face Roberto Mancini's side, who are on their own path towards redemption, in  tonight's Euro 2020 semifinal (9pm).

This is a fixture laced with history, not least for coach Luis Enrique, who was left with a broken nose by opponent Mauro Tassotti that went unpunished in a 1994 World Cup quarterfinal defeat and to this day sparks feelings of injustice in Spain.

The Spaniards have happier memories of their Euro 2008 quarterfinal, when they prevailed on penalties after a goalless draw in their toughest game on their path to their first international trophy in 44 years.

They met again in the Euro 2012 final in arguably Spain's best display in that glorious four-year cycle, winning 4-0 in a performance so dominant captain Iker Casillas pleaded with the referee to blow his whistle and put Italy out of their misery.

But the Italians would have their revenge four years later in the last 16 when a team fired up by Antonio Conte deservedly won 2-0 at the Stade de France to end Spain's long period of continental hegemony.

But that win did not spark the revival Italy hoped and a 3-0 defeat to Spain in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup led to them missing out on international football's biggest event for the first time since 1958.

It also provoked a deep identity crisis that led them to appoint Mancini.

Mancini has got the country falling back in love with the national team by overseeing some sparkling football and creating a real sense of unity demonstrated in the way they have celebrated every victory as if they had won a trophy.

That sense of togetherness could be seen on the pitch as they defended like gladiators in their 2-1 win over Belgium in the quarterfinals and in their raucous tribute on the flight home to defender Leonardo Spinazzola, who tore his achilles tendon and is out of the tournament. 

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