Spain 1 Italy 1
The Italian renaissance continues. They defeated Spain on penalties in one of the classic European Championship ties to secure their place in Sunday’s final.
In an utterly compelling semi, in front of more than 60,000 at Wembley, 120 minutes of spellbinding football could not separate these sides.
In the end, it was Alvaro Morata’s missed penalty in the shoot-out which proved so costly for Spain.
The Spanish, so good on the ball, dominated vast spells but failed to make their chances pay.
They were behind when Federico Chiesa applied a glorious finish to a lightning Italian counter, only for Morata to come off the bench to rescue Spanish hopes 10 minutes from the end.
It was quite the riposte from the striker, dropped from the starting XI and heavily criticised by the Spanish fans throughout the tournament.
The additional 30 minutes failed to produce a winner, leaving penalties to settle it.
Both sides missed their first efforts before recovering to land their next two, but it was Morata’s fourth kick for Spain that proved crucial, saved by Gianluigi Donnarumma handing Jorginho the chance to win it, and he calmly rolled home the winning kick.
Roberto Mancini’s thoughts now turn to Sunday’s final, against either England or Denmark.
Italy have been revitalised under his leadership, unbeaten now in 33 games - a run stretching back to 2018 - and this was the sweetest of the lot. La Dolce Vita, to borrow a phrase.
It is such a contrast from three years ago, when the Azzurri failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 60 years.
Italy will be a threat on Sunday, no matter who they face. But how much will these 120 breathless minutes of high-intensity football, and all the emotion of the shoot-out, have taken out of them?
A true heavyweight clash was played out in front of the biggest crowd at a UK sporting event since pre-pandemic times, with Wembley a collage of colour and noise.
Emotion poured out as the anthems were sung. Marco Verratti carried that passion straight into the game, conceding a foul inside 50 seconds.
But the angst gave way to artistry, with Spain so stylish on the ball. The problem was their finishing.
Their best chance came in the 23rd minute after a poor kick from Donnarumma, the Italian goalkeeper. The ball was worked to Pedri, who passed left to Dani Olmo. His initial attempt was blocked but he was first to the rebound, with Donnarumma stretching out a glove to turn away his follow-up shot.
Earlier, in the 15th minute, a slip from Nicolo Barella had allowed Ferran Torres a run at goal. Turning away from Jorginho, he took the shot on from 20 yards, but it flashed wide.
Italy missed the marauding raids from their injured full-back Leonardo Spinazzola, but Emerson, the Chelsea defender, was a willing runner.
Jorginho was kept busy by the tricky Pedri, who was moving the ball about seamlessly.
Italy’s best chance came right at the end of the half. Lorenzo Insigne picked up the ball on the left and drove forward, slipping in Emerson, who smashed a shot against the crossbar, although he felt Unai Simon, the goalkeeper, got a touch.
The second half had a similarly thunderous tempo, Spain immediately surging forward with Mikel Oyarzabal turning inside and finding Sergio Busquets, who shot over.
Chiesa responded for Italy, turning away smartly from Jordi Alba, with Simon saving. It was a warning that for all Spain’s impressive ball play, Italy carried real attacking threat. It wasn’t heeded.
Cometh the hour, cometh Chiesa, who applied a finishing touch to a devastating Italian counter.
Flashes of blue lit up the pitch as Donnarumma played the ball out to Verratti, who found Insigne, then Ciro Immobile. An attempt to intercept from Aymeric Laporte sent the ball spinning to Chiesa, who evaded Eric Garcia’s outstretched leg to find the far corner with a sublime curling effort.
As Wembley came alive, Spain responded by summoning Morata. Oyarzabal failed to make the most of a free header, before a shot from Olmo spun wide.
But the Spanish armada kept coming, and they levelled 10 minutes from the end as Morata finally applied a clinical edge to their impressive approach play. Olmo played him through, and he calmly steered the ball left of Donnarumma, meaning extra-time.
As a rapt Wembley enjoyed an extra 30 minutes, Spain pushed for a winner. Donnarumma pushed away a free-kick from Olmo, Morata kept it alive but Busquets’ effort spun just wide of the back post.
Spain were dominant but Italy dug in, epitomised by Giorgio Chiellini, who was getting a foot to everything.
Domenico Berardi had the ball in the net for Italy but their celebrations were quickly muted by the assistant’s flag, meaning penalties would decide it, and the men in blue prevailed.
ITALY: Donnarumma, Di Lorenzo, Bonucci, Chiellini, Emerson (Toloi, 73) Jorginho, Barella (Locatelli, 85), Verratti (Pessina, 73), Chiesa (Bernardeschi, 107), Immobile (Berardi, 61), Insigne (Belotti, 85)
Unused subs: Sirigu, Acerbi, Cristante, Bastoni, Florenzi, Meret
SPAIN: Simon, Azpilicueta (Marcos Llorente, 85), Garcia (Pau Torres, 109), Laporte, Jordi Alba, Koke (Rodri, 71), Busquets (Thiago, 106), Gonzalez, Ferran Torres (Morata, 61), Oyarzabal (Moreno, 71), Olmo
Unused subs: de Gea, Diego Llorente, Sanchez, Gaya, Fabian, Traore
Referee: Felix Brych (Germany)
Man of the match: Pedri
Match rating: 8/10