VELTINS ARENA (Gelsenkirchen): Luciano Spalletti said on the eve of the Italy Men’s National Team‘s Euro 2024 clash with Spain that he was curious to see how close his players were to being able to dominate against one of European football’s true heavyweight nations.

On this evidence, the answer is that they are still very far away indeed.

A Riccardo Calafiori own goal early in the second half may have been all that separated the two sides, but this was as one-sided a 1-0 as you will see.

Italy Euro 2024
Italy Men’s National Team’s Lorenzo Pellegrini on the ball against Spain at Euro 2024. [@Azzurri_En]

The Azzurri had the excellence of captain Gianluigi Donnarumma and profligacy of the Spanish attack to thank for the scoreline not looking worse, with Spain having 20 shots to Italy‘s three.

Spain‘s victory guarantees them top spot in Euro 2024 Group B and leaves Italy needing to avoid defeat in their final group game against Croatia to finish as runners-up.

Spalletti was open about wanting his team to aggressively press and dictate the game, but that idea soon looked farfetched. Spain were immediately on the front foot, bossing possession and creating two huge early opportunities.

Pedri should have scored inside two minutes when Nico Williams’ cross found him unmarked six yards out, but the teenager’s header was too central and an alert Donnarumma was able to flash his fingertips at it to tip the ball over.

Spain‘s second big chance also came down the left wing, Alvaro Morata placing a cross on Williams’ head from six yards, but the winger nodded off target in a huge let-off for Italy.

It was an alarming opening 10 minutes. But the Azzurri did manage to tighten things up from there, restricting their opponents to a string of speculative long-range strikes, although one such effort required a superb diving save from Donnarumma and the keeper was also on hand to charge a Morata effort as he put in a captain’s display.

Italy did occasionally manage to squeeze through the Spanish press to launch the odd counter-attack, but their moves regularly broke down in the final third with Gianluca Scamacca struggling to get into the game. A wild effort from Federico Chiesa was Italy‘s only shot of the first half.

Spalletti rung the changes at the interval, bringing on Bryan Cristante and Andrea Cambiaso for Jorginho and Davide Frattesi in a bid to add some muscle and speed, but the Roma man was booked after 14 seconds and had to be careful thereafter.

Italy Men’s National Team’s Davide Frattesi battles for the ball against Spain at Euro 2024. [@Azzurri]

History repeated itself early on when Marc Cucurella got to the byline down the left and cut a ball back to Pedri, who was again left unmarked outside the six-yard box, but the midfielder once again lacked composure as he side-footed a finish wide with the goal gaping.

Italy didn’t learn their lesson as moments later Spain flew down the left wing once more, and this time found results when Calafiori diverted Donnarumma‘s parry into his own net to give the Spaniards a deserved lead.

Donnarumma was called into action once more to palm over a ferocious Morata drive, Andrea Cambiaso hooked a header off the line and Lamine Yamal curled a shot wide as Spain piled on the pressure.

Mateo Retegui and Mattia Zaccagni came on with 25 minutes to go to try and ignite a stagnant attack, replacing Scamacca and Chiesa, and Italy showed some signs of life when Cristante flashed an inviting ball across the six-yard box to no avail.

Italy Men’s National Team’s Gianluca Scamacca against Spain at Euro 2024. [@Azzurri]

Just as Italy were enjoying some rare possession in the Spanish half, Williams cut inside off the left and rattled a shot off the top of the bar.

Italy did at least save their best until last, as Cristante‘s flick actually forced a simple save from Unai Simon towards the end during the most encouraging spell of the game for Spalletti‘s men.

But they never truly looked capable of plundering a point against the odds, and there was still time for Donnarumma to twice deny substitute Ayoze Perez with a pair of excellent reaction stops in the space of a minute.

Donnarumma came forward for a late corner in the hope of some late drama, but it came to nothing.

Despite the slender scoreline, this performance will no doubt raise plenty of questions and concerns, particularly around the stodgy attack, ahead of the trip to Leipzig on Monday to face Croatia.