A match that should have been a semifinal or final -- Italy vs Spain -- will take centre-stage in the first knockout round of Euro 2016. After a sometimes-boring, sometimes-exciting first six last 16 fixtures, this match at the Stade de France, between two proper heavyweights, will hopefully provide the best match yet in these European Championships.
To do that, both teams will need to recover from their final group matches, when they went down to their respective opponents. While Italy were surprised by a never-give-up Republic of Ireland side, Spain were beaten by Croatia, which in turn saw them finish second in their group and, as a result, set this round of 16 matchup against the Azzurri.
Vicente Del Bosque has gone with the exact same XI for all three of Spain's matches in Euro 2016, and considering this is now the most important of them all, there is little chance of any change coming up in the starting XI, unless there is a late injury, of course.
That means Alvaro Morata, with three goals already in Euro 2016, will be up against most of his Juventus teammates, with Nolito, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta and David Silva providing the ammunition from behind. Sergio Busquets, like he always does, will act as the shield to Spain's backline, with will again have that mix of Barcelona (Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba), Real Madrid (Sergio Ramos) and Atletico Madrid (Juanfran) players.
Sergio Ramos needs to be a little careful in this pre-quarterfinal, and not go into those rash challenges that he is prone to making, because one yellow card against Italy, and he will miss the Euro 2016 quarterfinal, provided Spain go through.
That suspension-with-one-more-yellow-card worry exists for ten Italy players, with six of those likely to start this match against Spain. All three of Italy's centre-backs – Andre Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini -- are in danger of a suspension, but they cannot worry about that as they try to stop this dangerous Spain attack.
While Italy, who are likely to be without Antonio Candreva owing to a hamstring injury, are a changed team nowadays, much more forward-thinking, there is little doubt that Spain will hold much of the possession, and how well Antonio Conte's men counter-attack will hold the key.
Spain can be vulnerable at the back when you hit them at pace, and like Eder showed with a wonderful winner against Sweden, Italy are capable of the spectacular.
Confirmed starting XI: Italy: Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Florenzi, Parolo, De Rossi, Giaccherini, De Sciglio; Pelle, Eder.
Spain: De Gea; Juanfran, Ramos, Pique, Alba; Busquets; Silva, Fabregas, Iniesta, Nolito; Morata.