Aquilani winner stuns Spain in Bari
Former world champions Italy stunned the team who succeeded them just over a year ago with a 2-1 victory over Spain on Wednesday. Alberto Aquilani scored the winner six minutes from time after Riccardo Montolivo had given the hosts a deserved lead before Xabi Alonso equalised from the penalty spot.
While Italy enjoyed by far the best of the opening period, Spain controlled the second half until a spate of substitutions robbed the match of any rhythm. Cesare Prandelli's Italians can be proud of themselves, although with just two Barcelona players in Vicente Del Bosque's starting line-up - seven started the South Africa 2010 final against the Netherlands - it is debateable whether this really was the Spanish first team.
Prandelli was pleased with his team's first half showing. "We have to take this (result) in the right way. Until we ran out of legs and fluidity, we played very well," Prandelli said. "Then we lacked order and we had to work harder. But we showed character and courage."
The hosts were quick out of the traps, eager to put pressure on the world champions and prevent them from establishing any rhythm. Prandelli had said the day before that he picked two deep lying forwards and no centre-forward or wingers so that Italy's central midfielders could break from deep.
His tactic seemed to work to perfection in the early stages. On four minutes a quick counter attack saw Antonio Cassano, captain for the day in his birth city of Bari, feed Thiago Motta, who passed for Giuseppe Rossi to lay it back to Domenico Criscito to crash a rasping shot off the post with Iker Casillas beaten.
It was all Italy in the early stages, sitting deep and allowing Spain possession before hitting them with rapier counter-attacks. They took a deserved lead when Criscito split the defence for Montolivo to run behind Gerard Pique and chip the onrushing Casillas, the ball clipping the bar on its way down and in.
Italy created another great chance, but Cassano's willingness to go down under negligible contact from Pique cost him what seemed a clear one-on-one chance with Casillas. Another ball over the top sent Rossi charging in from a wide position, but Casillas stood up bravely to save with his legs.
Spain were then awarded a penalty when Giorgio Chiellini was adjudged to have fouled Fernando Llorente. Xabi Alonso clipped the ball straight down the middle from 12 yards as Gianluigi Buffon dived to his left. Late in the half Casillas's legs came to the rescue again after Cassano used his strength to hold off Andoni Iraola before shooting from 20 yards.
Spain had been forced into making two changes during the first half with Fernando Torres coming off after a quarter-hour and Pique leaving the pitch just before the break. They made three more changes at the break and soon after Alvaro Arbeloa tried his luck from 40 yards, the ball dipping just over as Buffon back-tracked desperately.
Just past the hour mark Spain opened up Italy, but Llorente's finish in front of an open goal was poor, although it almost crept in via a deflection off Criscito before Buffon scrambled it clear. Spain were pushing and Silva tested Buffon's reactions before Andrea Pirlo kept substitute goalkeeper Victor Valdes busy at the other end. But then Aquilani's weak shot deflected off Raul Albiol and left Valdes wrong-footed and Italy in raptures.