Euro 2024: Spain advances to knockout rounds with clear win over defending champion Italy

Italy's Mattia Zaccagni (left) and Spain's Robin Le Normand fight for the ball during a Group B match between Spain and Italy at the 2024 UEFA European Football Championship in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, 20 June 2024.

Italy’s Mattia Zaccagni (left) and Spain’s Robin Le Normand fight for the ball during a Group B match between Spain and Italy at the 2024 UEFA Euro in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, June 20, 2024. | Photo credit: AP

Spain, the three-time European champions, advanced to the round of 16 of Euro 2024 after a 1-0 win over defending champions Italy on Thursday.

An own goal by Riccardo Calafiori in the 55th minute decided the Group B match at the Veltins Arena in Gelsenkirchen. But that was by no means the only thing about the outstanding performance of Spain, who are certainly among the favorites to win their fourth European Championship and thus set a new record.

“I think this was the best performance Spain has ever had under my leadership,” said coach Luis de la Fuente. “I see no limits with this team. The sky is the limit.”

Spain completely dominated defending champions Italy and 16-year-old winger Lamine Yamal further cemented his reputation as one of football’s most exciting young stars.

Nico Williams, the man of the match, also gave Italy’s defenders a hard time and narrowly missed a goal in the second half.

Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma kept the score low with a series of brilliant saves until he inadvertently pushed the ball into the legs of Calafiori, who was unable to prevent the ball from rebounding into his own net.

“They deserved to win and we were never in the game,” said Italy coach Luciano Spalletti. “The gap was too big. We were constantly under pressure, we were never able to close the gaps between the different units and they were able to cause us problems. They caused us more problems than the result suggests, let’s not beat around the bush.”

Spain delivered a performance reminiscent of the years when the team dominated international football, winning two consecutive European and World Cups from 2008 to 2012.

After failing to dominate possession for the first time in 136 competitive matches in their 3-0 opening win over Croatia, Spain reverted to old habits, not letting Italy have the ball and dictating proceedings in a largely one-sided match.

In the first half, chances came one after the other, Donnarumma made several saves and thus kept the scoreless draw.

Despite Spain’s superiority, it took Calafiori’s own goal to break the deadlock after the break.

Donnarumma deflected Alvaro Morata’s header into the legs of Calafiori, who could only watch as the ball bounced off the field and landed in the net.

Williams was then just millimetres away from extending his lead with a curved shot that hit the crossbar.

“We dominated across the board,” said Williams. “Italy is an excellent team, but we played very well and deserved to win.”

Williams is just one of the bright young stars on De la Fuente’s team. Yamal is another, and the Barcelona teenager, who has a billion-dollar release clause, showcased his talent with slalom skiing and tricks.

FC Barcelona midfielder Pedri seems to be the modern answer to Spanish star Andres Iniesta.

“I want to underline the quality of this generation of players, especially the players in this squad. The Spanish players are the best in the world,” said De la Fuente.

Spain have endured frustrating times since their last European title in 2012, having been eliminated early in the last three World Cups.

At the last European Championship, they were eliminated in the semi-finals on penalties against Italy.

But recently there have been signs of a resurgence at the club after winning the UEFA Nations League last year.

Now the company seems well positioned to add another major title in Germany.

“Basically, we haven’t achieved anything yet,” said De la Fuente. “Football can be very cruel. We have to be careful, humble and respectful.”

England drew 1-1 with Denmark in Group C after Harry Kane scored and then made a mistake that allowed the Danes to equalise. Kane scored his 64th goal for his country to put England ahead in Frankfurt, but his sloppy pass allowed Morten Hjulmand to equalise from long range.

In the other Group C match, Luka Jovic saved Serbia’s 1-1 draw with Slovenia with a goal in injury time.

England leads the group with four points and is expected to advance to the round of 16.

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