Italy coach Mancini has got the country falling back in love with the national team by overseeing some sparkling football and creating a real sense of unity demonstrated in the way they have celebrated every victory as if they had won a trophy
Spain's cycle of dominance of European football began and ended with Italy so it is fitting their hopes of a reconquest will see them face Roberto Mancini's side, who are on their own path towards redemption, in Tuesday's Euro 2020 semi-final.
This is a fixture laced with history, not least for coach Luis Enrique, who was left with a broken nose by opponent Mauro Tassotti which went unpunished in a 1994 World Cup quarter-final defeat and to this day sparks feelings of injustice in Spain.
Spaniards have happier memories of their Euro 2008 quarter-final, when they prevailed on penalties after a goalless draw in their toughest game on their path to their first international trophy in 44 years.
They met again in the Euro 2012 final in arguably Spain's best display in that glorious four-year cycle, winning 4-0 in a performance so dominant captain Iker Casillas pleaded with the referee to blow his whistle and put Italy out of their misery.
But the Italians would have their revenge four years later in the last 16 when a team fired up by Antonio Conte deservedly won 2-0 at the Stade de France to end Spain's long period of continental hegemony.
But that win did not spark the revival Italy hoped and a 3-0 defeat to Spain in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup led to them missing out on international football's biggest event for the first time since 1958.
It also provoked a deep identity crisis which led them to appoint Roberto Mancini.
Mancini has got the country falling back in love with the national team by overseeing some sparkling football and creating a real sense of unity demonstrated in the way they have celebrated every victory as if they had won a trophy.
That sense of togetherness could be seen on the pitch as they defended like gladiators in their 2-1 win over Belgium in the quarter-finals and in their raucous tribute on the flight home to defender Leonardo Spinazzola, who tore his Achilles tendon and is out of the tournament.
Spain's path to the semi-finals has been less smooth, getting off to a croaky start with dull draws against Sweden and Poland before coming to life with a 5-0 win over Slovakia and a 5-3 win against Croatia after extra time.
Their quarter-final success over Switzerland on penalties was far less exciting but had the hallmarks of the shootout win over Italy 13 years ago and showcased the team spirit players and Luis Enrique have talked up throughout the tournament.
"From day one we were confident we were a solid and united group and that we were good enough and we've proved that," said forward Mikel Oyarzabal ahead of the Wembley semi-final.
Italy will play Spain at the European Championship for the fourth consecutive tournament:— William Hill (@WilliamHill) July 2, 2021
2008 QF: 🇪🇸 0-0 🇮🇹 (4-2 pens)
2012 Final: 🇪🇸 4-0 🇮🇹
2016 Last 16: 🇮🇹 2-0 🇪🇸
2020 Semi-Final: 🇮🇹 vs 🇪🇸
A heavyweight clash. 🍿 pic.twitter.com/fNfZ2tgf3J
"Italy are a top level team with players who keep performing at the highest level with their clubs but we're not any less than them."
Who’s saying what?
Roberto Mancini, Italy coach
“We scored two [against Belgium] and we could have scored more. I think the victory was fully deserved. Spain are next, but the more you progress, the more difficult it becomes.”
Leonardo Bonucci, Italy defender
“We are thriving on this occasion, we have made it this far and we are going to give absolutely everything in our power to make the Italian people proud of this Azzurri side.”
“We have had a flawless run so far, but even if Spain have had some issues we need to put that to one side and really focus on what we need to do, where we need to improve,” said the 34-year-old central defender.
“We simply need to be motivated by the fact we are coming up against such a great and prestigious side in such a wonderful arena as Wembley, in the knowledge that we could be involved in the final in just a few days’ time.”
Luis Enrique, Spain coach
“We are so proud. It’d be ridiculous to think that we, or any of the semi-finalists, would sign for just getting this far now – all of us want to get to the final and win.”
“I always said we were one of the eight candidates to win the European Championship and now we are among the four best.”
Unai Simón, Spain goalkeeper
“We have to go into the semi-final fresh, confident and with our heads high. We have to win the Euro now.”
Head To Head Record:
In their 37 total head-to-head meetings to date, both Italy and Spain have won 11 each while 15 matches have ended all square.
Stats and Trivia
• The nations have met 37 times: they have recorded 11 victories each and 15 draws, with two Italy wins to one Spanish and three draws in six EURO encounters.
• That UEFA EURO 2016 loss is Spain’s only defeat by Italy in the last seven fixtures between the sides (W2 D4) since a 2-1 friendly loss in Bari in August 2011. In competitive games, that defeat in Saint-Denis five years ago is Spain’s sole reverse in the last six fixtures (W2 D3) since a 2-1 reverse to the Azzurri at the 1994 World Cup – a game current head coach Luis Enrique started for Spain.
• This 38th fixture against Spain means Italy have played only France (39 matches) and Switzerland (59) more frequently; the Azzurri are now Spain’s joint most common opponents, level with Portugal.
• Italy edged past Belgium 2-1 in the UEFA EURO 2020 quarter-finals, recording their 15th successive UEFA European Championship win in the process – a new competition record, eclipsing the mark of 14 they had previously shared with Germany and Belgium themselves. Spain similarly had to hold their nerve to reach the last four, finally finding a way past Switzerland in a penalty shoot-out after a 1-1 draw.
• Italy’s EURO semi-final record is W3 L1:
1968 W 0-0 Soviet Union (won on coin toss)
1988 L 0-2 Soviet Union
2000 W 0-0 Netherlands (aet, 3-1 pens)
2012 W 2-1 Germany
• Spain have won all four of their EURO semi-finals:
1964 W 2-1 v Hungary (aet)
1984 W 1-1 v Denmark (aet, 5-4 pens)
2008 W 3-0 v Russia
2012 W 0-0 v Portugal (aet, 4-2 pens)
• This time round, Italy won all ten of their qualifiers to finish first in Group J, swelling the number of countries to have reached the finals with a perfect record to eight.
• Spain qualified for UEFA EURO 2020 by winning eight and drawing two of their ten qualifiers to finish on 26 points in Group F, five above second-placed Sweden – with whom they drew 0-0 in Group E on Matchday 1. Spain had more shots (227), possession (70%) and completed a greater percentage of their passes (91%) than any other team in qualifying.
• Having never scored three goals in a EURO finals game before this tournament, Italy managed it in both their first two matches, beating Switzerland and Turkey 3-0 at the Olimpico in Rome, where they secured first place in Group A with a 1-0 defeat of Wales on Matchday 3.
• Spain became the first team to score five goals in successive EURO matches with a 5-3 defeat of Croatia in the last 16 on 28 June, a game in which they had led 3-1 with five minutes left. Extra-time goals from Álvaro Morata and Mikel Oyarzabal finally took Spain through.
• Italy’s record in England overall is W8 D6 L11. At EURO ‘96 they played their first two group games at Anfield in Liverpool, where they beat Russia 2-1 before losing to the Czech Republic by the same score, bowing out after a goalless draw against eventual champions Germany at Manchester’s Old Trafford.
• Spain have lost five of their nine games at Wembley (W2 D2), although they did win the most recent, 2-1 against England in the UEFA Nations League in September 2018 thanks to goals from Saúl Ñíguez and Rodrigo. They have also suffered UEFA European Championship elimination at the ground, losing 4-2 on penalties to England after a goalless 120 minutes in the EURO ‘96 quarter-finals.
With Reuters, AFP and Uefa inputs