Italy ends Spain's Euros reign with convincing 2-0 victory

Henry Bushnell
FC Yahoo
Italy's Giorgio Chiellini, left, celebrates with Eder after scoring his side's first goal during the Euro 2016 round of 16 soccer match between Italy and Spain, at the Stade de France, in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, Monday, June 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)
Italy's Giorgio Chiellini, left, celebrates with Eder after scoring his side's first goal during the Euro 2016 round of 16 soccer match between Italy and Spain, at the Stade de France, in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, Monday, June 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

Italy held a 22-year drought, and the final remnants of one of international soccer's great dynasties, at its mercy. And in 90 masterful minutes Monday night at the Stade de France, it suffocated both to the slowest of sporting deaths.

The Italians bruised and battered and sliced through Spain en route to a 2-0 Round of 16 win at Euro 2016, ending Spain's quest for a third straight European title.

[ EURO 2016 | Predictions | Scores/Schedule | Standings | Teams ]

Giorgio Chiellini's scrappy 33rd-minute goal proved decisive. It was the first conceded by La Roja in a Euro knockout stage match since 2000. It also gave Italy its first win over Spain in a competitive match since Roberto Baggio's 88th-minute winner in the quarterfinals of the 1994 World Cup.

But Chiellini's goal was just one of many sparkling moments for the Italians in a thoroughly convincing victory.

David de Gea scrambled down to his left after eight minutes to parry Graziano Pelle's header. Pelle combined well with his strike partner Eder, whose early shot from 12 yards required a last-ditch Spanish block.

Spain looked out of synch for much of the first half. Its attempts to grasp control of the game were unsuccessful. Scuffed passes skidded aimlessly across a rain-soaked surface, and midfield touches from world-class players went wayward.

Italy, of course, did its part. Its midfield of Daniele De Rossi, Emanuele Giaccherini and Marco Parolo swarmed Andres Iniesta and David Silva. Sergio Busquets and Cesc Fabregas were invisible. Italy slid sideline to sideline in its 3-5-2, barricading all avenues to goal.

Chiellini's breakthrough came after Pelle was chopped down by Sergio Ramos at the top of the box.

After the goal, Italy remained the more likely to find the back of the net. Giaccherini scuttled between the middle of the park and the left wing, and cut inside to force a flying save from De Gea right before halftime. The Spanish goalkeeper pulled of a few acrobatic saves to keep the deficit at one.

Spain replaced the ineffective Nolito with 35-year-old Arturo Aduriz at halftime, scrapping plan A for plan B, but the latter was similarly impotent. Alvaro Morata was reduced to a dive and a 25-yard lob attempt to try to crack Italy's back three. Fabregas blazed a 30-yard drive over the bar.

De Gea remained active after the interval. He spread his wings to deny Eder one-on-on in the 55th minute after the Italian forward had been played in by Pelle.

Spain manufactured a handful of half chances late. But Buffon comfortably repelled every one.

At the death, it was the Italians who broke in the other direction, and got the second goal that their overall performance merited. Graziano Pelle definitively ended Spain's run at the top of European soccer.

Antonio Conte, the mastermind behind Italy's very "Italian" dominance, leapt onto the top of his dugout. Buffon hung from the crossbar minutes later.

Italy is on to the quarterfinals to face world champion Germany. Spain, for the second straight international tournament, is gone with a whimper, and a golden generation has seemingly drifted into the past.

 

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