Luis Aragones’ men are on fire, roaring into the last eight after finishing top of Group D with maximum points. They have scored eight goals in three games, and will go into this match as many people’s favourites to progress to the semi-finals.
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Spain have indeed won all seven of their fixtures in 2008, including pre-Euro 2008 warm-up wins against France, U.S.A, Peru, and Italy themselves.
The question now is – will Spain once again flop when it really matters? We have seen this scenario so many times in the past where La Seleccion have made a flying start to a major tournament, only to then lose their nerve once it gets to a big knockout game.
This was the case at the last World Cup, when Spain played some delightful football in the group stages, only to then lose 3-1 to France in the second round.
Spain are certainly in better form than Italy, but they have a dreadful competitive record against their opponents. There is also the small matter of the so-called June 22 curse. Spain have exited three major tournaments on penalties on this exact date in recent history, losing to Belgium at World Cup ’86, England at Euro ’96, and South Korea at World Cup 2002.
Italy Scrape Into Knockouts
The Azzurri confirmed their status as being slow starters as they somehow sneaked through into the last eight, despite picking up just one point from their first two games.
After losing 3-0 to Holland and drawing 1-1 with Romania, Italy’s destiny was out of their own hands, however a 2-0 win over France, coupled with a Dutch victory over Romania, saw them progress.
Roberto Donadoni’s men were much improved against Les Bleus, and they will now be hoping that they have started to hit form at just the right time.
Italy have an outstanding knockout record in major tournaments, and indeed have not lost a knockout tie in 90 minutes since the 2-0 semi final defeat to the Soviet Union at Euro 1988.
The Azzurri are renowned for their big game temperament, in stark contract to their opponents Spain, who despite being in better form, are often labelled as big-game bottlers.
In total Spain and Italy have met 28 times, with the Azzurri winning nine, Spain eight, and 11 ending in draws.
The last meeting was a friendly in March of this year when La Seleccion won 1-0 in Elche, with David Villa scoring a brilliant winner late in the game.
Italy have not defeated Spain since the dramatic quarter-final of the 1994 World Cup, when the legendary Roberto Baggio rounded goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta in trademark fashion to give Arrigo Sacchi’s men a last-minute 2-1 victory.
Italy however have not lost to Spain in a competitive match for 88 years, a 2-0 defeat at the 1920 Olympic Games. The Azzurri emerged victorious at the 1924 and 1928 Olympics, the 1934 World Cup, drew 0-0 at Euro 80’, and won 1-0 at Euro 88, thanks to a Gianluca Vialli strike.