Italy’s world-record 37-game unbeaten run came to an end as a Ferran Torres brace helped Spain win 2-1 in their UEFA Nations League semi-final at the San Siro Stadium on Wednesday.
After Italy’s failure to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, Roberto Mancini took over the men’s program in May 2018 and transformed them into one of the best national teams in Europe. After winning only one of his opening five games, Mancini led his country to a 28-0-9 record, in which they scored 93 goals and only conceded 12 goals, before the subsequent loss to Spain.
La Roja will face France in the UEFA Nations League 2021 final after Les Bleus came back from a two-goal deficit to defeat Belgium 3-2.
The victory brought revenge to the Spaniards after they were narrowly beaten by Italy on penalties in the Euro 2020 semi-final in July. Italy went on to win the tournament for the first time since 1968.
It only took the visitors 17 minutes to find the back of the net after a left-wing cross from Mikel Oyarzabal. His wonderful cross found Torres, who struck a side-footed volley into the far corner past Donnarumma.
Lorenzo Insigne had the chance to equalize in the 35th minute after a cross from Emerson but he somehow managed to put his effort wide to the right of the goal.
The situation only got worse for the Italians as in the 42nd minute, defender and team captain Leonardo Bonucci got sent off for two bookings, the second being an elbow on Sergio Busquets when the pair jumped for a header.
Shortly before the break, Luis Enrique’s side went 2-0 up when Torres was left unmarked in the box and headed another fine cross from Oyarzabal into the back of the net.
Roberto Mancini continued to make substitutions as the game went on but his side posed little threat to the Spaniards until the 83rd minute when the Italians countered from a Spain corner as Frederico Chiesa found Lorenzo Pellegrini for a tap-in.
There was hope for an Azzuri comeback amongst the home fans but La Roja held on for the victory.
Italy’s dream of adding a Nations League trophy to their recent Euro 2020 championship fades but Mancini’s side should not be disappointed with their performance. Small details made the difference in this fixture and Spain were deserving of their victory after a phenomenal first-half performance.
Luis Enrique gave his initial reaction after his side’s 2-1 victory: “The game played out beautifully for us but that was a match of two rivals going at it hammer and tongs with their best qualities on show. My team looked dangerous throughout, we pressed well and I’m pretty happy. We defended by pressing high, by being brave, and we showed a brilliant attitude. But this is just one game for us, not a generational-marking win.”
One of the strangest situations that unfolded as the game went on surrounded Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma as he was being booed by his own fans throughout the match. The keeper had left San Siro occupants AC Milan this summer to join Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer and still faces stigma from Rossoneri supporters, who were furious with how Donnarumma and his agent, Mino Raiola, handled his departure.
The pressure affected the Italian goalkeeper throughout the match, most notably when he fumbled Marcos Alonso’s shot onto the post and left Spain with an empty net. Luckily, Bonucci was able to clear the ball out before further damage could be done.
After the match, Italy coach Roberto Mancini touched on the manner: “Italy were playing and it was not a club match,” he said. “They could have put this situation aside for one night and whistle when it comes to a PSG-Milan game. Italy is Italy, and comes above everything else.”
Italy will feature next on Sunday’s third-place play-off fixture against Belgium.