Italy and Spain are giants of European football, and both teams were expected reach the Euro 2016 semifinals, at least. But one of the two nations will suffer an early exit as they are scheduled for a mammoth round of 16 clash on Saturday, with the winner booking their quarterfinals spot. Former La Rojas midfielder Xavi says that the Italy vs Spain match should have been a semi-final or final.
Spain could have avoided Italy in the knockout stages had they defeated or even drawn level against Croatia in their last group match. Spain, in fact, were stunned by a fantastic late strike from Ivan Perisisc, which helped Croats take pole position.
The two nations are no strangers to one another, as they were involved in crucial clashes in the last two editions of the European Championships. Spain defeated Italy in the Euro 2008 quarterfinal, and also got past the Azzurris in the final of Euro 2012 to win the title.
"It's like we're destined to always meet," Football Italia quoted Xavi as saying in La Gazzetta dello Sport.
"And that's unlucky for both of us. It's a shame, because this game is coming too early. It could comfortably have been a semi-final or even a final, because Italy and Spain both showed an average level in this tournament so far that made them candidates for the final."
Italy and Spain were good in their respective first two matches of Euro 2016, but suffered losses in their last match. Despite that loss, both teams will be confident of a victory, with the number of world class players in their team.
If Spain have Alvaro Morata, Cesc Fabregas, David Silva, Italy also comprise stars like Graziano Pelle, Gianluigi Buffon, Daniele de Rossi and others. The match is primarily going to be a battle between Spain's silky offense vs Italy's tight defence, but Xavi believes Antonio Conte's team will be a huge threat with Pelle and Eder, who can score goal any time as well.
"Although admittedly your attack no longer has the world-class beasts, but Eder and [Graziano] Pelle are still the type of player that can score in any moment. And you have a resource on dead-ball situations: [Daniele] De Rossi, [Andrea] Barzagli, [Leonardo] Bonucci and [Giorgio] Chiellini make every dead ball dangerous," Xavi said.
"There are also [Lorenzo] Insigne and [Ciro] Immobile. You have players of great talent on the bench, but Italy prioritise hard work. Pelle and Eder are more physical players, more about sacrifice for the collective and that's probably why they've been chosen."
After being thrashed 4-0 by Spain in the Euro 2012 final, Italy will be pumped up to come up with an all-round game and throw the defending champions out of the competition. While Spain will be keen to continue their dominance over Spain in the European Championships of late.