Written by Alessandro Pugliese (@sandro_pugliese) and Justin Sherman (@JShermOfficial):
Later today, two of the world's largest and most prestigious footballing factories will take the pitch and do battle in an all important World Cup qualifier. Currently, Spain and Italy sit atop of Group G level on points, setting the stage for a match that will be imperative as to who will have the leg up in ultimately winning this group. Gli Azzurri and La Roja both possess quality in all facets of their squad, making this just another mouth watering clash in the long history of this rivalry. Italy's national team was formed back in 1910, with the Spanish following foot 10 years after. Each nation's domestic leagues, Serie A and La Liga, are considered amongst the most competitive in world football. Some of the greatest players to ever grace the pitch were birthed in both of these nations, contributing to the two countries achievements which include: 5 World Cups, 4 European Championships and 2 Olympic Gold Medals. With the excitement palpable and the expectations high, let's take a look at the top 5 most memorable matches between these two great footballing nations.
Drawn together in Group 1 at Euro 1988, Italy and Spain faced off on June 14 at the Westfalenstadion. Gli Azzurri controlled the play in the first half but struggled to find the net. A young Paolo Maldini played a key role in man-marking Spain’s star, Michel. The Italian fort-knox played his role to perfection, stifling and frustrating the Spanish miidfielder. After a long stalemate, Italy finally found the breakthrough as Gianluca Vialli scored the only goal 17 minutes from time. The win propelled the Italians into advancing from Group 1 to the knockout rounds, where they would eventually be eliminated by the Soviet Union.
The 1994 World Cup saw these two sides lock horns in one of the fiercest and most controversial quarter-finals of all time. The Italians struck blood first through Dino Baggio’s screaming long-range effort in the 25th minute. Spain appeared to be all out of answers when Caminero fired a long range effort that luckily deflected off a defender before finding the back of the net. With emotions reaching a fevered pitch, Roberto Baggio again became Italy’s hero as he toyed with the Spanish defense before scoring a dramatic late winner in the 88th minute for a 2-1 win.The real controversy began in injury time, when an unseen elbow on Spain's Luis Enrique by Mauro Tassotti incensed the Spanish and tarnished a beautiful game. Nevertheless, Gli Azzurri advanced to face Bulgaria in the semifinals before falling to Brazil on penalties in the Final.
Going into the 2008 Euros, Spain came in with a 44-year title drought and the weight of the nation on their shoulders. Conversely, Italy were the defending World Cup champions and came equipt with another star-studded side that were favorites once more for another title. The first 90 minutes were a tough and dragged out affair, as both sides found breaking the opposition's back line harder than expected. Football’s premier goalkeepers, Iker Casillas and Gigi Buffon, didn’t help matters either, as both pulled off fantastic saves to insure the game would eventually lead to penalties. Spain would step to the spot first and would go on to score three of their first four penalties, with Gianluigi Buffon saving the other from Dani Güiza, while Iker Casillas saved two of Italy's four penalties. This left a 21 year old Cesc Fàbregas to score and send Spain through, with the pressure like that of an anaconda suffocating its prey. He converted, finally ending Spain’s Italian curse, winning their first competitive match against Italy since the 1920 Summer Olympics. In the process, Spain also qualified for the semi-finals for the first time since 1984, eventually leading to Euro title as they beat Germany in the final.
After playing out to a very entertaining 1-1 draw in the opening group stage match, these two heavyweights met again in the Euro 2012 Final. While this match might not have been as fun for neutrals, or Italians, it was surely a memorable moment for the Roja faithful, cementing their place in history as one of the world’s greatest sides with 3 straight major tournament titles. It was a classic Spainish performance from Del Bosque’s men, displaying Tiki Taka at its unmitigated best for the very last time under his watch.
After playing each other in a friendly on March 24th, the two sides met in the Round of 16 at Euro 2016. Italy surprisingly finished top of their group, while a slip-up against Croatia made Spain runners-up of Group D and in a much tougher draw. Neither nation held back in this one, with each side playing free-flowing attacking football. Ultimately, Italy’s manager, Antonio Conte, proved his technical acumen and unbelievable motivation skills as his side oozed spirit and determination through their pores, winning 2-0 and advancing the the quarter-finals.
And some extra bonus footage of the two nations in European Championship action through the years. Click here to watch the video below.