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Gaizka Mendieta: Spain must keep the ball to beat Italy

EURO2020.com columnist Gaizka Mendieta explains what Spain need to do to get the better of Italy.

Is Ferran Torres the man who can unlock Italy?
Is Ferran Torres the man who can unlock Italy?

If you had asked me before the tournament, Italy would have been the one team I wouldn't have wanted to face until the final, but I have huge confidence in Luis Enrique and his team. I think they are ready.

Just the name 'Italy' once struck fear into the heart of Spanish teams but 'fear' is not the word any more: 'respect' is. It's a different era. Italy play in a more 'Spanish' way – more comfortable with possession, but still with their traditional intensity and competitiveness. That Italian footballing DNA will always be there.

Live coverage: Italy vs Spain

Should Marcos Llorente start at right midfield?
Should Marcos Llorente start at right midfield?UEFA via Getty Images

Roberto Mancini has brought something of his own personal playing style to this Azzurri team. Kudos for that. Italy have extraordinary athleticism but their most important characteristic, I think, is their balance of tactical and technical – they're probably the best team I've seen in this tournament. Spain are the closest side to them, and since Italy do have a slight upper hand in terms of energy, this will be Spain's most difficult match thus far.

There are arguments for and against Marcos Llorente coming in at right midfield. Also for using Ferran Torres one v one against Emerson (who should come in for Leonardo Spinazzola) to worry the replacement defender. Then keep Llorente on the bench to add his energy later on? It could work either way.

Does Luis Enrique go for it with energy and attack in the first half, or save that energy for later on, with Torres coming off the bench to try and finish the game? In terms of possession Spain need to try to keep the ball long enough to make Italy uncomfortable, make them run out of energy. However Spain also need to be intense and accelerate with the ball in order to break down Italy's lines of midfield and defence. That's Spain's challenge. Not easy.

EURO 2012 final highlights: Spain 4-0 Italy

These teams are very similar. It'll be interesting how the one without the ball responds – both will be eager to get it back. Spain have to slow Italy down, but must speed up, themselves, when they attack.

To win, Spain must improve defensively. They haven't been ruthless enough. Any cross has been a worry. Being compact, not giving away crosses, not giving away free-kicks and corners is vital when facing the aerial threat of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci. Spain need to be tougher. If Bonucci and Chiellini have one weakness it's pace. So get balls behind them, try to make them uncomfortable – then take those chances!

Spain can win. Why? Because they can dominate the ball. Against teams like Italy you must have your day. Spain are on the rise, gaining in confidence and in quality of football. But the best is yet to come. When's the right time to improve? When you have Italy in front of you! La Roja just need that hard-edged 'champions' attitude. It's time for Spain to demonstrate their desire to win this EURO. Against the first really big team they've had to face, it's time to show up. What went before doesn't matter. This team is ready.

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