HEAVYWEIGHTS GO HEAD-TO HEAD . . .
This is a big meeting of two of Europe’s giants early in the knockout stage. Spain beat Italy en route to glory in both of the last two European Championships, on penalties in the quarter-finals in 2008 and 4-0 in the 2012 final. They also drew in the group stages four years ago. With Spain unbeaten in the last five meetings between the sides, Italy may feel they are due a win. FORM Italy, without many major headline figures, were not hugely fancied coming into the tournament but their 2-0 win over highly-rated Belgium in their first game changed perceptions. It was a disciplined, well-organised and efficient display. Since then they have not been scintillating, with a narrow win over Sweden preceding defeat by the Republic of Ireland. Spain opened with a win over the Czech Republic and then looked superb as they thrashed Turkey 3-0. But then came an unexpected loss to an albeit excellent Croatia, when they surrendered a lead and missed a penalty. It makes the next game tough to call. RESPONSE TO DEFEAT Italy went into the Ireland match knowing that they had already won Group E and made eight changes. Because of that coach Antonio Conte will feel the result can quickly be written off. Ireland were a team needing to win to progress and they eventually prevailed with a late goal. Spain’s loss to Croatia, however, was a surprise. It cost them top spot in Group D and brought them some stinging criticism from the Spanish press. Coach Vicente del Bosque has obviously been here before, though, and will back his players to bounce back. CONTE & FABREGAS The match throws up an intriguing clash between Italy’s Chelseabound coach Conte and Blues’ Spanish midfielder Cesc Fabregas. Fabregas has enjoyed a reasonably good tournament so far and it will be interesting to see how Conte plans to combat him, with reports he could make some tactical changes. Fabregas has already said he would like Conte to get started at Chelsea as soon as possible, joking: “Hopefully from Tuesday he can concentrate on his new job.” ITALY DISCIPLINE Italy will be forced into one change with Antonio Candreva out injured but they also have 10 players in their squad just one booking away from a ban. If they take a robust approach to secure victory, it could come at a cost later in the tournament.