It needed extra time to separate these sides when they met at the same stage of Brazil 2008, and this match – certainly in the first half - was every bit as tight and closely contested. The difference in the opening period was that Spain enjoyed the luck that, on a couple of occasions, deserted the Italians.
The first sign that it might not be the Azzurri’s day came after seven minutes, when Gabriel Lima nicked the ball past Juanjo but could only watch in agony as the ball rebounded to safety off the right-hand post. Then, two minutes later, another stroke of ill luck led to Italy falling behind, as an attempted cross from Torras deflected off the shin of Saad Assis and skidded beyond the wrong-footed Mammarella.
Spain might have been fortunate to be in front at half-time, but they began to exert their authority at the start of the second half, with Mammarella forced into fine saves to deny both Torras and Fernandao. The latter player was back for more after 25 minutes too, and this time it was Spain’s turn to curse lady luck as their No5’s delicate chip bounced back off the face of the post. But while Miguelin was also denied by the woodwork soon after as Italy struggled to hold on, the next time the net bulged, it was at the other end.
Spain only had themselves to blame too because it was a poorly timed substitution that allowed Alex Merlim to run through unchallenged on to Mammarella’s throw and flick the ball with the outside of his right foot beyond the isolated Juanjo. Italian celebrations didn’t last long though because, just 11 seconds later, Spain were level, with Torras picking out the run of Alemao and the No14 burying his close-range volley.
Lozano then scored a decisive third after Fernandao, taking advantage of Italy committing men forward, broke clear on the right and crossed for his team-mate to shoot low beyond Mammarella. And there was still time for Lin to round off a hugely impressive second half from Spain, skipping beyond his marker on the left and curling a right-foot shot just inside the far post.
“I think the scoreline is a fair one because we really played a great match. We didn’t just win – we put on a real show. It was crucial for us to retake the lead quickly after Italy equalised because that way we didn’t allow them to gain any momentum. They tried to come forward but we were so good defensively that it was impossible for them. And, above all, we were clinical up front,” Venancio Lopez, Spain coach.
“First of all, I must congratulate Spain. They’re a great team and deserve to be in the final. We tried our best to play at the same level as them and we managed to equalise, but unfortunately we were a bit unlucky and conceded again almost immediately. After that, the match became easier for the Spanish because we pushed forward and left spaces for them to exploit,” Roberto Menichelli, Italy coach.