Italy defeats Spain 2-0 at Euro 2016
Giorgio Chiellini and Graziano Pelle on target
Spain's eight-year reign ends
Italy will play Germany in last eight
Spain’s reign as champion of Europe came to a shuddering halt Monday as Italy claimed a famous 2-0 win in Paris.
Italy, beaten 4-0 by the Spanish in the final four years ago, produced a fine performance to set up a quarterfinal tie with world champion Germany.
Giorgio Chiellini’s 33rd-minute goal gave Italy the lead, and Graziano Pelle smashed home a second in stoppage time to seal the win.
For eight years, Spain has enjoyed its role as champion of Europe but it had no answer to an Italian team set up brilliantly by coach Antonio Conte.
This was a brave and committed display from an Azzurri side which few had given a chance of reaching the later stages of the tournament.
Spain had its chances of its own but could not find a way past the Italian defense and was almost inevitably punished when Pelle rounded off a rapid counter-attack.
The Italians began with a confidence and swagger which left their opponents chasing shadows in the opening stages. Spain goalkeeper David De Gea, overworked in the first period, produced an astonishing save to deny Graziano Pelle after the striker powered his header towards the bottom corner from Alessandro Florenzi’s cross.
Italy, which topped Group E, continued to thrive and Emanuele Giaccherini forced De Gea into another fine save with an overhead kick, though his effort would have been ruled out for a high foot if it had found the net.
Spain, beaten by Croatia in its previous match to finish second in Group D, looked lackluster, lethargic and unable to find a way to cope with Italy’s ability to break on the counter attack.
Spain captain Sergio Ramos almost sliced the ball into his own net as Italy continued to whip dangerous crosses into the penalty area.
With 12 minutes of the first half remaining, Italy finally gained its reward.
Pelle was cynically fouled by Ramos about 20 yards from goal and, when De Gea failed to hold Eder’s effort, Chiellini reacted first to force the ball home.
Buoyed by the goal, Italy went close again just before halftime with De Gea once again called into action to palm Giaccherini’s exquisite curling effort over the crossbar.
Leading at the interval, Italy’s only regret would have been its inability to make the most of its chances.
That failure appeared likely to prove costly as Spain, so anemic in the first half, began to find its feet and should have equalized within three minutes of the restart.
Alvaro Morata, scorer of three goals in his previous three games, found space inside the penalty area but could only send his header straight at the goalkeeper from close range.
It was a poor miss from the striker – who is returning to Real Madrid after two seasons in Italy with Juventus – and only served to increase the frustration of his teammates.
Spain’s increased tempo and decision to push forward began to increase pressure on an Italian defense which had been breached just once during the group stage – during the 1-0 defeat by Ireland, after Italy had already qualified for the last 16.
But Spain’s desire to move forward left gaps for Italy to exploit and De Gea had to rescue his side once again when Southampton striker Pelle played Eder through on goal only for the Brazil-born forward to shoot straight at the goalkeeper.
Spain, with Lucas Vazquez on in place of the ineffective Morata, continued to pile forward at every opportunity and Andres Iniesta unleashed a wonderful left-footed volley which Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon palmed over the crossbar.
Buffon was growing ever busier and Gerard Pique forced the 38-year-old into a full-stretch save as Spain began to turn the screw.
Spain was growing increasingly desperate but in the final minute of the contest it created its best chance of the game, with Barcelona defender Pique poking towards goal from eight yards only for Buffon to produce an outstanding save.
It proved a vital save as Italy raced down the other end almost immediately. Manchester United’s Matteo Darmian picked out Pelle at the far post, the 30-year-old volleyed home emphatically to finally put the result beyond doubt.
It was Spain’s first defeat in a knockout game at a major tournament since 2006 and leaves Italy facing a date with Germany in Bordeaux on Saturday.
Germany, which thrashed Slovakia 3-0 in the last 16, has never beaten Italy at a major international tournament.
“We’re facing two of the best teams in the world in the space of a few days,” Chiellini told reporters.
“There were several games we needed to take revenge for but we also wanted and deserved this victory.
“We waited too long before killing the game off, too. We deserved to finish it earlier, and we suffered in the last 15 minutes. But there was a saint behind us, and he stopped everything.”