Italy have booked a date with world champions Germany in the quarter finals of Euro 2016, after eliminating reigning champions Spain ​in Monday afternoon’s last-16 fixture in Paris.

Graziano Pelle scored late on to add to Giorgio Chiellini’s first half opener for the incredibly impressive Azzurri, who were entirely deserving of their place in the next round.

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The clash was a repeat of the final of Euro 2012 – which the Spaniards resoundingly won 4-1 – but this was an entirely different story. Vicente Del Bosque’s side were again backed as favourites for their technical ability in comparison to their un-fancied opponents, but this game was about desire. It was about hunger and heart. Italy had it, Spain didn’t.

Italy asserted their first-half dominance from the very off. They worked harder for every ball, gave their opponents not a moment’s peace in possession and used it well themselves. David de Gea was by far the busier of the two goalkeepers over the course of the game, and needed to make a series of astonishing saves through the first half especially.

He denied Graziano Pelle an opener with a stunning stop from the Southampton man’s header, while Sunderland reject Emanuele Giaccherini brought about an even better save after an acrobatic attempt soon after. De Gea was the subject of some criticism for the way Italy took the lead though, as he failed to palm away an Eder free-kick before Chiellini bundled in the rebound at the third attempt.

The lead was no less than Antonio Conte’s men deserved. They could have been further ahead too, but for De Gea’s brilliance, but took their lead into half time and picked up where they left off at the restart. Eder could and should have finally doubled the lead after being played clean through on goal by Pelle, but De Gea was again up to the task as he rebuffed the Inter man’s strike just before the hour.

In the final stages, La Roja did step it up. They simply had to. Their command on meaningful possession grew as Italy began to retreat, and the shots followed. The experienced Gigi Buffon was as dependable as ever though, turning away a number of shots from the likes of Andres Iniesta and his Barcelona teammate Gerard Pique. He denied Pique from point-blank range again in the final minute of normal time to keep hold of his side’s lead.

Though under the cosh for a spell – much to the frustration of Conte, at times – the Azzurri did enough to keep the defending champions at bay, and impressively managed to book themselves a place in the quarter final against Germany in the process. The confirmation came before the final whistle too, as Pelle finally got his goal as he smashed a cross home and beyond De Gea after a deflected cross in from Matteo Darmian.

For Italy, it’s on to the last eight, but for Del Bosque and his Spanish side, the golden era is well and truly over – and their stranglehold on the European Championship is too.


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