Spain show Italy where the level is at Euro 2024 with Donnarumma limiting the damage

Italy were well and truly played off of the park by Spain in Gelsenkirchen and are left wondering if they can really mix it with Europe's best at Euro 2024.

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

The Italy Men’s National Team were on the end of a humbling defeat at the 2024 European Championship thanks to an impressive Spain display, even if the scoreline was only 1-0.

Both Italy and Spain were not easy sides to judge coming into this tournament in Germany, but the events in Gelsenkirchen on Thursday night suggested that La Roja are destined to go much further than Gli Azzurri.

Luis de la Fuente‘s side looked to be making the most of their incredibly talented squad in a manner that limited even Italy‘s best players to a night they will never want to relive. If it weren’t for Gianluigi Donnarumma, things could have been much worse.

Spain’s technical ability shines through

What was abundantly clear from the first half was that this Spain side, whilst very different to that famous side that won the European Championship twice and the World Cup in between across four years, is extremely technically gifted.

The likes of Rodri, Pedri, Fabian Ruiz and Lamine Yamal were enjoying themselves, creating combinations that the likes of Nicolo Barella, Jorginho and Davide Frattesi couldn’t rival. Those three Italy players certainly could on their day, but in this instance, the Spanish midfield looked levels above. Throw in the pace of their wild players and the fact Alvaro Morata is in great form, and they are a frightening proposition.

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Spain Men’s National Team players celebrate scoring against Italy at Euro 2024. [@SEFutbol]

Rodri became the key exhibit of the difference between the two sides. He was able to help build attacks, in the way that Jorginho can, but he could also screen the back four and snuff out attacks in a a way that nobody in the Italy midfield can. A player like Marco Verratti would be able to make a difference, but perhaps still wouldn’t be making the kind of impact that Rodri was.

The fact that Jorginho was removed for Bryan Cristante at half-time said a lot about the total lack of control that Italy had in midfield, but that change did little to stem the flow.

Calafiori unfortunate on a poor defensive night for Italy, Donnarumma keeps it respectable

When the breakthrough finally came for Spain, it was very unfortunate that it came via Riccardo Calafiori. The Bologna defender had been the least poor of all the Italian defenders on the night.

Whilst the scoreline may not suggest that Italy were battered, the defence and midfield was pulled from pillar to post all night and the likes of Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Alessandro Bastoni looked a shadow of their best selves. Calafiori hardly shone, but it felt unfair when a Nico Williams cross took one deflection before being touched by Donnarumma just before it arrived on the end of Calafiori‘s knee and pinged into the back of the net.

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Italy Men’s National Team’s Riccardo Calafiori on the ball. [@Azzurri_AR]

It was a goal that Italy deserved to concede, but not one that Calafiori deserved to have on his record. Italy had moved to something of a back five from the half-time whistle, with Andrea Cambiaso replacing Davide Frattesi.

If it wasn’t for Gianluigi Donnarumma, Italy could have been on the end of a heavy defeat. The Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper comes in for a lot of criticism, much of it deserved, but he kept Italy in the game right until the end which was not expected.

Where do Italy go from here?

What should be said is that having won the opener against Albania, Italy are still in a very strong position to qualify from Group B.

The negative outlook, though, is that even if they do go through, this match showed the level that some of Europe’s best teams are operating at. Italy looked totally inferior to Spain and the scoreline somehow didn’t reflect it.

It was a surprise when Italy won Euro 2020. On the evidence of this game, it will be even more of a surprise if they win Euro 2024.