As with the first semifinal, revenge and atonement will again be a prominent theme when Italy takes on Spain for the right to take their place in the final of the Confederations Cup. But, unlike Brazil with Uruguay, Italy do not have to go back more than 60 years for the source of their extra incentive to secure victory.
Italy exceeded, at least outside, expectations at last year’s European Championship when they marched all the way to the final. But upon getting there they met a Spain side that appeared intent on shoving talk that their tiki-taka soccer had become boring firmly down their critics’ throats. La Roja produced their best performance of the competition by far and ran out emphatic 4-0 winners to become the first side to win three consecutive major international trophies.
Yet, that does not tell the whole story. Two of Spain’s goals were scored in the final six minutes after Italy had been reduced to 10 men following an injury suffered when their final substitute Thiago Motta was forced off with an injury. And Italy had created golden chances to pull back within a goal of the world champions early in the second half.
Italy can certainly take some comfort from that performance, but they can take even more belief from the way they played in their opening match of Euro 2012 when they gave Spain all they could handle in a 1-1 draw. That day Cesare Prandelli provided a template for the fact that it was possible to have success against Spain without merely packing every man behind the ball. As well as the positive philosophy, the Azzurri coach also showcased his tactical philosophy by playing three mean at the back. And that system could well be utilized once more in Fortaleza on Thursday.
It is that system that was deployed in training before the match, according to Gazzetta dello Sport, and it is one that makes a lot of sense. Italy have been surprisingly poor at the back thus far in the Confederations Cup and it will be further weakened against Spain by the absence through injury of Ignazio Abate. The back line will be strengthened by the presence of all three of the Juventus trio of Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci, while switching to wing-backs will provide cover for the defensively-susceptible, but superb-going-forward, Christian Maggio.
Prandelli should be boosted by the return of Andrea Pirlo from injury, but has suffered a major blow with Mario Balotelli having already returned home with a thigh strain. Alberto Gilardino is set to be charged with leading the line and he will have to take any chances that come his way, something that Nigeria failed to do in their loss to Spain on Sunday. The African champions did again show, though, the benefits that can be garnered from pressing Spain high up the pitch and looking to win the ball back quickly.
Still, Spain ultimately prevailed comfortably, 3-0. Indeed, Vicente del Bosque’s side have largely quashed suggestions that they are on the wane from their unprecedented six years of dominance of the international scene. They produced arguably the performance of the tournament so far against, an admittedly compliant, Uruguay in their opening match.
And, with Andres Iniesta coming close to his incredible performances at Euro 2012 and Cesc Fabregas looking more threatening playing off of a main striker, Spain have a far greater threat than an Italy without Balotelli going forward. It could well be a lot closer than last time around, but Spain should ensure the final against the hosts that most neutrals crave.
Prediction: The Confederations Cup semifinal will kick-off from the Estadio Castelao at 3 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN.