​Italy enjoyed a 2-0 win over defending champions Spain at the Stade de France on Monday evening to book their place in the quarter-finals of Euro 2016. 

Spain registered less shots on target than the Azzurri, despite having the lion’s share of possession, as their opponents carried out their pre-game tactics to a T, nullifying La Roja’s attacking threat in the final third. But how did they pull it off?

To disrupt Spain’s possession play, Italy had a high starting position from goal-kicks, and it meant La Roja were forced to go long, being drawn into 50/50 balls with a robust Italy defence. 

Conte’s men won the majority of aerial duels during the encounter with Spain, but it was their decision-making in regard to their closing down style that was the big difference.

Italy v Spain - Round of 16: UEFA Euro 2016

Italy didn’t always press the opposition but instead closed down Spain in areas where they threatened to be dangerous and forced multiple errors (making 19 interceptions). 

The Azzurri’s midfield made 33% more tackles than Spain’s counterparts, and pulled off 16 blocks (including shots, crosses and passes) over the 90 minutes.

Italy didn’t have as much of the ball as Spain did, adopting tactical fouls to break up any spell of momentum, but they scored two goals against the holders so Conte’s men were still carrying a threat going forward. 

Italy moved the ball from back to front in quick fashion, using the extremities of the pitch to pull the Spain defence out of their shape, and La Roja didn’t like it one bit.

Italy v Spain - Round of 16: UEFA Euro 2016

The Azzurri pushed on their wing-backs to overload Spain in the wide areas, and it meant they capitalised on Spain’s flying fullbacks in the opposition half. 

The likes of Mattia De Sciglio and Alessandro Florenzi whipped in nine crosses between them and created three chances, as Spain just couldn’t handle Italy’s fast breaks.

Italy were getting the ball into the box on the counter, and should have found themselves comfortably ahead in the match, while 53% of Spain ‘s shots were coming from outside the area. 

But when Italy were called on to defend, they still had to be clever in possession to take the pressure off their back-line. Italy made less long passes than Spain, and saw 76% of their pass going forward, compared to Spain’s (69%).

It’s brave to play such an open style against a deadly outfit like Spain, but Conte had the balance between risk and reward spot on. It was Spain whipping in the most crosses and hoisting the ball in the box at every given opportunity, while Italy were composed on the ball and nullifying Spain without much trouble.

Spain had a blue brick wall to try and get through, and ultimately they failed to carve open a stubborn Italy outfit. And when Spain were behind, Italy sucker-punched them on the break for Graziano Pelle to finish the scoring.

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