Spain’s dream of a return to a European Championship final was dashed by Italy on Tuesday night with a 4-2 defeat in a penalty shootout following a 1-1 draw between the teams at Wembley Stadium.
Both Dani Olmo and Alvaro Morata were unable to convert their spot kicks, leaving La Roja on the wrong side of a shootout after having won the penalty roulette in the previous round against Switzerland.
It was a classic European semi-final between two historic nations, with Federico Chiesa giving Italy a lead midway through the second half, but Morata equalising with ten minutes to play. In the end, there would be no repeat of Spain’s 2008 Euro quarter-final penalty triumph over the Azzurri, sending Spain home empty-handed.
Head coach Luis Enrique made the surprising decision to relegate Morata to the bench for the first time in the tournament, resulting in Ferran Torres playing as the false nine and joined by Mikel Oyarzabal and Olmo in attack.
There were a couple early looks for each side, but nothing that was going to trouble either goalkeeper until Olmo’s crack midway through the first half forced Italy’s Gianluigi Donnarumma into a save. Meanwhile, Italy’s best chance of the first 45 minutes came on the stroke of half-time, with an Emerson shot from a narrow angle tipped onto the crossbar and out by Spain No.1 Unai Simon.
Sergio Busquets hardly ever shoots on goal, let alone scores, but the Barcelona veteran came within a whisker of finishing off a Spain break early in the second half when he curled a right-footer over the crossbar off a pass from Oyarzabal.
Spain were controlling the tempo, but also leaving themselves vulnerable to the counter and Italy made them pay on the hour mark when Chiesa pounced on an initial clearance and curled in a right-footed shot into net for a 1-0 Azzurri lead.
Luis Enrique went immediately to his bench, bringing on Morata for Ferran Torres. There was more urgency to their play, naturally, and the equaliser was there for Oyarzabal to nod home with a header just minutes after the Italy goal, but the Real Sociedad man whiffed on Koke’s lofted pass.
After Domenico Berardi almost doubled Italy’s lead after some excellent work from Chiesa, Luis Enrique went back to his bench with Rodri and Gerard Moreno on for Koke and Oyarzabal, respectively.
Just when it looked like Italy would score a second, Spain pulled themselves level 1-1 and it came fittingly from Morata, whose one-two combination with Olmo was finished superbly with a left-footed shot past Donnarumma.
The goal gave Spain a charge of energy and Marcos Llorente was brought on to spell Cesar Azpilicueta, as the teams headed to extra time. Of the two, Spain looked the more likely to score and a couple pinballs deep in the Italy area gave hope
The final changes from Luis Enrique saw Thiago replace Busquets and then Pau Torres for Eric Garcia, but fatigue took hold and penalties had to resolve matters.
From the spot, Italy were superior. Olmo missed over the crossbar, while Morata’s attempt was saved by Donnarumma, before Jorginho clinched things with a well-taken penalty to beat Unai Simon and send Spain home.
1 (4).- Italy: Donnarumma; Di Lorenzo, Bonucci, Chiellini, Emerson (Toloi, min. 74); Verratti (Pessina, min. 73), Jorginho, Barella (Locatelli, min. 85); Insigne (Belotti, min. 85), Chiesa (Bernardeschi, min. 107), Immobile (Berardi, min. 62).
1 (2).- Spain: Unai Simon; Azpilicueta (Marcos Llorente, min. 85), Laporte, Eric Garcia (Pau Torres, min. 109), Jordi Alba; Busquets (Thiago, min. 106), Koke (Rodri, min. 70), Pedri; Dani Olmo, Ferran Torres (Morata, min. 62), Oyarzabal (Gerard Moreno, min. 70).
Goals: 1-0, min. 60: Chiesa; 1-1, min. 80: Morata
Referee: Felix Brych (Germany). Yellow Cards: Busquets (Min. 51) for Spain, Toloi (Min. 97) for Italy, Bonucci (Min. 118) for Italy
Red cards: None