Italy and Spain go head-to-head in the first Euro 2020 semi-final contest from Wembley on Tuesday evening. Mark O'Haire shares his best bet.
"The Azzurri have produced the most rounded performances at the competition, working from a solid platform, with the best midfield in the tournament, as well as an attack that’s been scoring goals in-line with opportunities created."
Italy v Spain
Tuesday July 6, 20:00
Live on BBC
Italy impress in high-class quarter-final
Italy edged an exhilarating quarter-final tie with Belgium 2-1 in Munich on Friday to seal their place at the Euro 2020 semi-finals. The Azzurri's two goals - which took the team up to 13 consecutive wins and 32 games without defeat - were of the highest quality with Nicolo Barella and Lorenzo Insigne both beating defenders before sumptuously converting.
Belgium were given hope late in the first half when Giovanni di Lorenzo fouled Jeremy Doku and Romelu Lukaku scored from the resultant penalty. Both sides had chances in a breathless second half but with no further goals followed as Italy's exceptional resurgence extended under Roberto Mancini with a professional performance in the final half hour.
It wasn't all good news for the Azzurri, mind. Impressive left-back Leonardo Spinazzola was stretchered off late on and will be missing for the remainder of the tournament. Mancini is expected to field Emerson Palmieri in his place, whilst Federico Chiesa should keep his position in the front-three following a lively display. No further changes are anticipated.
Spain sent to spot kicks
Three-time European Championship winners Spain survived another scare to beat 10-man Switzerland in a dramatic penalty shootout to reach the semi-finals of Euro 2020 on Friday. Switzerland missed three of their spot kicks, allowing Mikel Oyarzabal to score the decider for a La Roja outfit that flattered to deceive in the Saint Petersburg heat.
Luis Enrique's team were in front early on when Swiss midfielder Denis Zakaria deflected Jordi Alba's shot into his own net inside the opening 10 minutes. However, Spain failed to build on their advantage and eventually allowed the underdogs back into the encounter with an equaliser following a defensive mix-up between Aymeric Laporte and Pau Torres.
Spain again created chances but Alvaro Morata failed to make an impact before being withdrawn and replacement Gerard Moreno struggled to make the best of opportunities that were fashioned. Luis Enrique is expected to persist with Morata, although defensive changes could be in the offing, with the midfield trio of Koke, Pedri and Sergi Busquets continuing.
In their absolute tiki-taka pomp, Spain swept Italy aside 4-0 in the final of Euro 2012, but the balance of power has shifted a little since. Italy eliminated La Roja with a 2-0 win in the 2016 European Championship last-16 before the duo met in qualification for the 2018 World Cup - Spain were cushy winners in Madrid following a fair 1-1 draw in Turin.
Italy 2.608/5 have not won the Euros since 1968 but the Azzurri have arguably been the standout side in the 2020 edition. Roberto Mancini's team are unbeaten in almost three years and have shipped just two goals across their last 13 outings (W12-D1-L0). No remaining nation boasts a better non-penalty xG ratio (73%) making Italy fair favourites.
Spain 3.2011/5 top the charts for attacking metrics although La Roja's lack ruthlessness has seen the Iberians go the distance in both knockout contests. Luis Enrique's team have monopolised possession and territory but also allowed a worryingly high xG-per shot figure, suggesting Spain are prone to giving away Big Chances in transition.
It's no surprise to learn that European Championship semi-finals tend to be tight affairs. Going back to the beginning of Euro '96, the 12 previous final-four fixtures have produced an average of only 1.83 goals per-game. A strong 67% of matches featured Under 2.5 Goals 1.705/7, although a reasonable 5/12 (42%) paid out for Both Teams To Score 2.001/1 backers.
Euro 2020 has averaged an encouraging 2.81 goals per-game and the quarter-final contests involving Italy and Spain suggested neither team are likely to sit back, or revert to a pragmatic style of play. However, I'm happy to steer clear of the goals markets and instead invest interest in Italy at 1.804/5 off a scratch 0 start on the Asian Handicap.
The Azzurri have produced the most rounded performances at the competition, working from a solid platform, with the best midfield in the tournament, as well as an attack that's been scoring goals in-line with opportunities created. Italy's unbeaten streak is difficult to ignore and Roberto Mancini's men also boast a significant rest edge over the Spaniards.
The selection means we'll see our stake returned as a push if the match ends all-square, and be paid out at 1.804/5 should Italy win in 90 minutes.
Mark's Euro 2020 Profit/Loss
Staked: 9 pts
Returned: 5.38 pts
P/L: -3.62 pts