Spain face Italy in the UEFA Nations League semi-final on Thursday night in Enschede. The winner of this match will face either the Netherlands or Croatia in the final or the third-place playoff, both of which take place on Sunday. La Furia Roja are looking to bounce back from a poor 2022 World Cup whilst Italy are holders of the Euros but didn’t make it to Qatar.
Spain topped their Nations League group ahead of Portugal and Switzerland despite netting just eight goals. They were beaten 2-1 at home by the Swiss in their second last group match. They began the Qatar World Cup by thrashing Costa Rica 7-0 and big things were expected. Instead, they drew 1-1 with Germany and lost 2-1 to Japan to squeeze into the Knockout Rounds on four points.
In the round of 16, they drew 0-0 with Morocco before being beaten on penalties. In March’s first Euro 2024 qualifier, they beat Norway 3-0 at home as veteran striker Joselu scored twice on debut. Their second qualifier saw the coach change most of his XI as Spain were beaten 2-0 away by Scotland.
Spain Team News
Luis de la Fuente left out 14 of the players from the World Cup squad at the back end of last year. Pedri’s absence is due to injury whilst Rodri is now vice-captain and will anchor midfield a few days after scoring in the Champions League final. Sergio Busquets has retired from international football. The likes of David Garcia, Nicol Williams and Juan Bernat have all withdrawn from the original squad due to injury.
From the squad selected in March’s Euro qualifiers, Gerard Moreno and Bryan Gil miss out due to injury and left back Alejandro Balde is surprisingly dropped. There was a start in that match for 35-year-old Iago Aspas and he is not in this squad at all. Captain Alvaro Morata is set to lead the line. At the back, Robin Le Normand from Real Sociedad is pushing for a debut centrally and Fran Garcia from Rayo Vallecano will hope for a first appearance at left back.
The national team is very much in flux right now. Many players have changed in recent squads and the new coach is selecting some older players despite having been a Youth international coach in recent years.
A win would be a huge boost to the country’s morale after the disappointing World Cup. Spain will play possession-based football and try to assert itself onto Italy.
The Azzurri have been well below their best for quite a long time. If we look back at their last 17 fixtures across multiple qualifiers, friendlies and Nations League matches, they’ve lost six of those with just seven victories. They lost to North Macedonia in a World Cup playoff in March 2022 and missed out on the showpiece.
They topped their Nations League group ahead of countries like Germany and England, though. After a 5-2 loss in Germany, they beat England 1-0 and Hungary 2-0 away to seal a place in these semi-finals. Their last three matches have seen two losses. A 2-0 friendly defeat in Austria was followed by losing 2-1 at home to England in a Euro 2024 qualifier. Roberto Mancini made eight changes for the last match as his side won 2-0 away in Malta.
Italy Team News
A few players have been dropped from the March qualifiers squad. Defenders Alessio Romagnoli and Emerson Palmieri and midfielder Sandro Tonali are omitted. Two forwards in Gianluca Scamacca and Matteo Politano are both out injured. Argentina-based striker Mateo Retegui is set to lead the line after scoring in both his appearances so far.
There is lots of experience otherwise, with Leonardo Bonucci back as captain and Inter Milan’s ageing duo of Matteo Darmian and Francesco Aberbi also selected. Federico Dimarco has earned a recall after some fine form for Inter at left wingback. Teenage winger Wilfried Gnonto was injured against Malta but is fit to start this one.
After winning the Euros and then failing to reach the World Cup, Italy will be eager to win this semi-final and then the final. Mancini is picking all of his older players and look to win right now, not building for the future.
Spain will probably have more of the ball in this match but Italy are a progressive side under this coach and won’t play ultra-defensively. With three ball-players in midfield, they will look to play on the front foot.
3 of the last 4 meetings between these sides have seen BTTS Yes
Spain have lost just 1 of their last 10 matches vs Italy
Spain have won just 1 of their last 5 matches (failed to score in 2 of the last 3)
Italy have lost 6 of their last 17 matches (& 2 of their last 3)
Italy have scored in 6 of their last 7 matches
This should be a close match with the midfield battle especially intriguing. Italy have much more experience and players who have just reached a Champions League final. They will want to bounce back from that loss and are favoured to win this one.