Get ready for the rematch, folks—Spain will meet Italy in a Confederations Cup semifinal, reprising the final from the 2012 European Championships, which Spain won, 4-0.
Spain will likely be heavy favorites in this one. Never mind that the Spanish side won its first three games by a combined score of 15-1, impressive as that was. This team is loaded, led by superstars Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez in midfield.
Italy also comes into this game pretty beat up, with Mario Balotelli and Ignazio Abate already ruled out for the remainder of the tournament, while midfielders Andrea Pirlo and Riccardo Montolivo remain questionable.
Still, Italy always seems to have a few tricks up its sleeve at major tournaments, and this one should be an excellent game. Let's break it down.
When: Thursday, June 27 at 3 p.m. ET
Where: Fortaleza, Brazil
What They're Saying
If you think the Italians believe they can tactically out-maneuver Spain, think again. Instead, the team has a different strategy—out-run them.
Seriously. From the Associated Press (via the CBC):
Italy has defined a clear-cut strategy for its Confederations Cup semifinal match against Spain on Thursday: Out-run the World Cup holders.
As far as Italy coach Cesare Prandelli is concerned, matching Spain's ball possession or passing skills is impossible. So in training Monday, running took priority over tactics.
The Azzurri players—at least the ones that are still healthy after a series of injuries—sprinted from one end of the field to the other at full speed about 10 times consecutively at one point, then stopped to have their heart rates checked by team trainers.
"We've got to get it into our heads that against Spain it's going to be a battle of suffering," Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said. "Their ball possession is superior to ours and the Spanish are unbelievable at getting past any sort of trap set up by the opponents. They're excellent at holding on to the ball and attacking so we've got to try to make them run as much as possible."
Spain Player to Watch: Roberto Soldado, Cesc Fabregas or Fernando Torres
It remains to be seen if Soldado or Fabregas will even be able to play, as both missed training on Monday and are questionable for Thursday's game.
It also remains to be seen how Spain will approach this game tactically. Will Fabregas be utilized in the false nine role as he has in the past in an effort to neutralize Pirlo (if Pirlo even plays)? Will Soldado, who has gotten the nod as the team's first-choice center-forward, reprise that role if he's healthy?
Or has Fernando Torres—who has scored five goals in two appearances during the tournament—played his way into the starting lineup?
No matter who starts at center-forward, he'll once again be under heavy scrutiny during this match. We know Spain's midfield will dominate the game, and the defense will have an easier task with Balotelli sidelined.
But if Spain can't generate goals, Italy could stretch this game into extra time and steal a win. It remains to be seen who will get the start, but their role will once again be vitally important for a Spanish side that always bosses the play but occasionally struggles to translate that into goals (albeit not in this tournament thus far).
Italy Player to Watch: The Back Line
Mattia De Sciglio, Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli (or Leonardo Bonucci) and Christian Maggio will obviously face a huge test against a dangerous Spanish side. That test becomes all the bigger considering how poorly Italy's defense has played in this tournament.
Normally a strength of the Azzurri, Italy's defense has allowed a whopping eight goals in three games. While they played a tough slate against Mexico, Japan and Brazil, the team's normally stingy defense has been shaky at best.
If they don't pick up their game, they'll be facing another 4-0 whipping from the defending World Cup champions.
Which team wins?
Balotelli is the one player that could have really given Spain fits, and he isn't in action, so it's hard to see Italy advancing to the final. If Pirlo is good to go, he always has some magic in him, but Spain is too talented and deep to lose this game.
Spain advances to the final, 2-0.