Spain secured their spot in the last 16 of Euro 2024 with a scintilating performance against defending champions Italy in Gelsenkirchen.

They created countless chances and were utterly dominant but won by a narrow scoreline thanks to an own goal by Riccardo Calafiori in the second half.

After being kept at bay by goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma for almost an hour, Alvaro Morata’s flick-on was poked in by the knee of the unfortunate Calafiori.

There was no response from Italy, who were comfortably second best, despite playing their part in a captivating match.

Two European giants meeting in the group stage of the tournament meant there were high hopes and it lived up to its billing with an electric opening half.

Spain were the ones delivering most of the eye-catching stuff, moving the ball around beautifully with intensity and creativity, while Italy succeeded in keeping them out – but only just.

They had Donnarumma to thank as he made three excellent saves, tipping over Pedri’s header in the first two minutes, before later denying Fabian Ruiz and Morata.

Spain’s Nico Williams should have scored when he headed wide, then struck the crossbar, but he put in an impressive display alongside teenage sensation Lamine Yamal, 16, who played with freedom, curling an effort narrowly wide later on.

Italy had just three touches in the opposition box in the first half and not a single shot on target, and did not up their game after the break.

There were glimpses of a threat on the counter-attack but it was Spain who continued to rack up the chances – Pedri and Morata coming close again as they cruised into the last 16 with two wins from two matches, having not conceded.

Italy still have a chance of progressing. They face Croatia on Monday – a nation that has finished in the top three of the past two World Cups – while Spain take on Albania.

Nutmegs, Armani and dominance

Italy manager Luciano Spalletti said this week he wanted his side to play as elegantly as if they were dressed in their Giorgio Armani suits – but Spain stole the dress code.

Giovanni di Lorenzo had a torrid evening against Spain’s Williams, who terrorised him with pace, skill and a fearlessness that stood out on the main stage.

Spain’s biggest chances came down the left as Williams, linking up with Chelsea’s Marc Cucurella, dominated proceedings and he was almost rewarded when he curled the ball on to the crossbar.
On several occasions Williams and Yamal nutmegged their opponents, receiving cries of adulation from Spanish supporters in the stands.

Midway through the second half Yamal, who impressed and got an assist in their opening 3-0 win over Croatia, turned to the crowd and waved his arms up and down, in a rallying cry to increase their noise – and they responded.

“I saw the potential that my team boasts tonight. That ability to really make light work of a top-class side like Italy,” said Spain boss Luis de la Fuente afterwards.
“Italy won the Euros three years ago and we were still a long way off winning it, so I like the fact people are speaking about us and considering that we could win [now].”

Italy, though they worked hard and kept their shape throughout, were unable to compete individually and were fortunate not to have conceded more, but Donnarumma was in excellent form.

There was a late retaliation in the final minutes as Spain started to tire – players went down with cramp – and that was enough to give the Italian fans a boost.
But Spain substitute Ayoze Perez came close twice in quick succession right at the end only to be denied by the outstanding Donnarumma.

Italy still have work to do to reach the knockout stages but their narrow victory over Albania means they have three valuable points on the board and the defence of their title is not yet over.

“We were constantly stretched and they caused us problems – beyond what the scoreline suggests, let’s not beat around the bush,” said Italy boss Spalletti.
“We didn’t play a fluid brand of football. When we won the ball back we struggled to keep possession.

“There was too much of a gulf in sharpness and freshness.”