Pedro scored a second-half winner as Spain defeated Italy, 1-0, in an international friendly on Wednesday evening at Madrid's Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.
The lone goal came in the 63rd minute, when Pedro slipped a shot under Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon following fine work from David Silva and Andres Iniesta.
The match marked the Spain debut of Atletico Madrid's Diego Costa, a Brazilian-born striker who gained Spanish citizenship in 2013.
Wednesday's friendly was a rematch of the Euro 2012 final, which Spain won 4-0 in Kiev, Ukraine. While the stakes were much higher two summers ago, both managers likely used the match to make key decisions ahead of this year's FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
Spain, the defending World Cup and European champions, will be one of eight seeded teams in Brazil. If they hope to repeat as world champions, Vicente Del Bosque's top-ranked side will have to negotiate a tricky Group B, which also includes the Netherlands, Chile and Australia.
Italy, currently ranked eighth by FIFA, were not seeded and were drawn into Group D with past champions Uruguay and England, as well as outsiders Costa Rica. But even without recognition as a top seed, Italy will command respect as four-time world champions.
With such pedigree on show Wednesday, it was perhaps unsurprising that the match started quickly. Before five minutes were up, the game nearly had an opening goal.
In the fourth minute, Italy's Alessio Cerci weaved through the box on the right before chipping over Iker Casillas. But with the Spanish goalkeeper scrambling, the ball hit the back post and bounced back into Casillas' arms.
After that fast start, the first half produced few clear chances.
Spain quickly settled into their trademark passing game and set about probing Italy's defence for weaknesses. Pedro laid off for Costa in a dangerous position on the right in the 20th minute, but Costa had his shot blocked.
In the last clear chance of the half, Italy's Dani Osvaldo curled a shot narrowly wide in the 28th minute.
After the break, Spain's David Silva freed Thiago Alcantara with a through ball in the 50th minute, but Gianluigi Buffon came off his line quickly to block the shot. One minute later, Silva shot wide after Italy failed to clear a cross.
Spain continued to grow in danger, and the hosts went ahead in the 63rd minute.
Silva passed to Iniesta on the edge of the box, and Iniesta returned the ball to Silva with a clever back-heel. Silva then shaped to shoot but was cut off by a pair of Italian defenders. The ball bounced favourably for Pedro, who rolled his shot in off Buffon for a 1-0 lead.
Costa had a big chance to extend Spain's lead in the 80th minute after turning his marker in the box, but he sent his shot wide of the post. Five minutes later, substitute Santi Cazorla briefly had a sight of goal after Silva's lay-off on the left, but Cazorla saw his shot deflected off target.
Italy nearly had a chance for the equaliser in the first minute of stoppage time when Andrea Barzagli flicked on Andrea Pirlo's corner at the near post. But with Mattia Destro waiting at the back post, Spain's Xabi Alonso headed the ball away to safety.
|Spain Player Ratings vs. Italy|
|Victor Valdes (for Casillas, 46')||6.6|
|David Silva (for Fabregas, 46')||7.1|
|Xabi Alonso (for Busquets, 46')||6.5|
|Jesus Navas (for Iniesta, 66')||6.4|
|Raul Albiol (for Ramos, 66')||6.3|
|Santi Cazorla (for Pedro, 82')||6.1|
|Italy Player Ratings vs. Spain|
|Ignazio Abate (for Maggio, 46')||6.8|
|Andrea Pirlo (for Candreva, 46')||6.1|
|Mattia De Sciglio (for Criscito, 46')||6.2|
|Emanuele Giaccherini (for Motta, 62')||5.8|
|Mattia Destro (for Osvaldo, 69')||6.0|
|Ciro Immobile (for Cerci, 69')||6.0|
Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque expressed contentment with his team's performance, as quoted by Inside Spanish Football:
We've moved the ball around well and we were slightly superior to Italy. Given it was a friendly, we've had some very good moments. We had some spells of great play, even though they to have had their chances.
We’ve been lively with our play, we made the ball do the work and our circulation has been good. We've also been attentive defensively, to the advances of Italy when they’ve attacked.
Italy manager Cesare Prandelli lamented what he called his players' "almost embarrassing" fitness levels. As quoted by Football Italia, Prandelli said:
At this moment of the season the fitness levels compared to Spain are almost embarrassing. We need to work hard, as to play with a high tempo we need intensity in our running.
We wanted to win the wall back early, we ever managed it because we weren’t physically sharp enough. I'll be honest, I did not expect the players to have these fitness levels.
Spain striker Diego Costa reflected positively on his debut despite failing to impress. According to Inside Spanish Football, Costa said:
"I’m very happy with my debut, winning is the most important thing to gain confidence. The first game is never easy. I’m happy, but I know I have much more to give."
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!