Spain were the better side but having begun this tournament threatening to blow it away with the beauty of their football, Roberto Mancini’s Italy showed again last night they have guts too.
They had to go all the way to a penalty shoot-out to book their place in the final but, unbeaten in 34 matches, they have a habit of finding a way.
Gianluigi Donnarumma made a crucial save and a hop, skip and a jump from Chelsea’s Jorginho later saw them win 4-2 on penalties.
Having dragged Spain back into the contest with a wonderful finish, the more simple task of putting the ball in from 12 yards was asking too much of Alvaro Morata.
Spain dominated possession, weaving pretty patterns with 70 per cent of the ball, and in the opening hour Italy were fortunate they had dropped their hit-and-miss strikers Morata and Gerardo Moreno to the bench and replaced them with miss-and-miss ones. Dani Olmo was not just a “false nine”, he was a false finisher.
Playing like the Spanish side who beat Italy 4-0 in the 2012 is great, but much easier if you have that calibre of player. Holding midfielder Sergio Busquets was still pulling the strings but seeing those around him, it was hardly like the good old days.
It was still pretty good, though, and Italy had to dig in to take the game the distance.
Whilst Olmo and his team-mates fluffed their chance, Italy only had one in the first 45 minutes and Emerson, Chelsea’s reserve left-back, smashed it against the crossbar from a tight angle at the end of the first half.
They came out stronger at the start of the second, Ciro Immobile shooting wide after putting Aymeric Laporte under pressure, Federico Chiesa shooting at Donnarumma after Busquets blazed over at the other end.
On the hour, Italy sprang a counter-attack from the goalkeeper’s gloves and when the pass to Immobile was cut out, Chiesa curled a beautiful finish into the net. Despite the suspicious smells wafting from the Italian end, it was the joy of football they were high on.
It forced Spain’s hand, bringing on Morata and Moreno, and soon the former was holding the ball up well only for Olmo, predictably, to shoot wide.
But in the 80th minute they got things the right way around, Morata on the sharp end of a one-two sending Donnarumma the wrong way with a quality finish. It was his third goal of the tournament, Olmo’s third assist.
Spain were the better side in extra-time but when Olmo cleverly shot a free-kick from a position which looked made for crossing and Donnarumma’s save fell to Morata he managed the double whammy of dragging his shot wide and hitting it against a defender. With Italy offering little at that stage, it doomed the game to spot kicks. Olmo blazed his over, Morata saw his saved and Manuel Locattelli apart, the Italians put theirs away.
Spain did a good job of showing England and Denmark this Italian side are not as fearful as their unbeaten run might suggests but outplaying them and beating them are two different things. It is a very Italian thing to say about a most un-Italian team.
Italy: Donnarumma; Di Lorenzo, Bonucci, Chiellini, Emerson (Toloi 73); Barella (Locatelli 85), Jorginho, Verratti (Pessina 73); Chiesa, Immobile (Berardi 61), Insigne (Belotti 85). Unused substitutes: Sirigu, Acerbi, Cristante, Bernardeschi, Bastoni, Florenzi, Meret.
Spain: Simon; Azpilicueta (Marcos Llorente 85), Laporte, Eric Garcia (Pau Torres 109), Jordi Alba; Koke (Rodri 70), Busquets (Thiago 115), Pedri; Dani Olmo, Oyarzabal (Moreno 70), Ferran Torres (Morata 62). Unused substitutes: de Gea, Diego Llorente, Sanchez, Gaya, Fabian, Traore.
Referee: F Byrch (Germany).