22 June 2008: Spain beat Italy on penalties in the Round of 16 at UEFA EURO 2008, continuing their march to glory. That victory eight years ago, secured by Cesc Fabregas’ coolly taken spot-kick, was the turning point for a team that went on to win everything, and convinced them of what they were capable and how far they could go.
27 June 2016: La Azzurra and La Roja face off for the third EUROS in a row, with Spain the favourites and memories of their 4-0 win in the 2012 final still fresh. The Italians produced a virtually flawless first-half performance, however, outplaying the defending champions before running out deserved 2-0 winners in a match that showed they have a plan and know how to execute it.
One of Italy’s many star performers in Paris on Tuesday was Eder. Like Marcos Senna in that EURO 2008-winning Spain team, the frontman was born in Brazil but has his adopted country in his heart, not to mention his legs, using his pace on the right to drive the Spanish defence to distraction. Showing the same intelligence he displayed on the pitch, he gave FIFA.com his views on the game.
A Brazilian in Italy Born 29 years ago in the southern Brazilian city of Lauro Muller, which, incidentally, was founded by Italian immigrants, Eder Citadin Martins played just the one game as a professional in his native country before moving to Italy in 2005 to pursue his career there.
“I think you can say that I’m almost 100-percent Italian,” he said when asked about his origins. “I’ve been in the country for so long that although I’m a Brazilian player in some ways, I understand the game as if I’d learned about it in calcio.”
Like any Italian player worth his salt, Eder has a very clear idea of tactics, and knew exactly what Azzurri coach Antonio Conte wanted from his players against the reigning two-time European champions, who had become Italy’s bogey team after defeating them at the last two EUROS and the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013.
Explaining Conte’s gameplan, he said: “We prepared the game really well. It wasn’t easy because we know Spain inside out and we knew that they’re a side that is very good at keeping the ball. So it was important for us to prevent them from dictating the game to us.”
Revealing more details, he added: “The decision we made was to press further up the pitch than normal and force their keeper to kick the ball long. We knew that with the power of our defenders and defensive midfielders, it would help us win the ball back more easily, which is exactly what happened.”
A long-term plan As Italy’s crucial win showed, it was the perfect strategy. There was nothing improvised about it either, with Conte’s men having begun their preparations for this match before the tournament had even begun.
“We played a friendly in Udine a few months ago, and the boss decided to try out the same strategy, in case we had to face them again here,” said Eder, recalling the March meeting, in which Spain scraped a draw after Aritz Aduriz cancelled out Lorenzo Insigne’s opener. “That’s why we knew it could work. And it did.”
Having cleared one big hurdle, Italy now face another in the shape of Germany. Though La Squadra Azzurra have lost just the once to Die Mannschaft in the last ten years, it was a recent and heavy defeat: 4-1 in Munich at the end of March.
As the No17 explained, that game will provide Conte’s men with another reference point: “Their players have been together for many years, and they’re the world champions too.”
Showing the utmost respect for Italy’s upcoming rivals, he added: “They made life very hard for us in that friendly. We’re going to have to come up with an even better gameplan than we did against Spain if we want to go through.”
If Italy’s exhibition against La Roja is anything to go by, Saturday’s quarter-final in Bordeaux promises to be quite an occasion. And though Germany appear to be the favourites on paper, the Italians can never be written off.
“We’ve known what we’re capable of right from our opening game of the EUROS against Belgium,” said Eder, expressing the belief that Italy can take on and beat anyone. “Just because we’re confident, though, doesn’t mean to say that we can afford to stop working. It’s that commitment that’s helped us get results. Nobody saw us as favourites but we knew in our minds that it was all going to come down to the amount of effort we put in, and here we are. We’ve come this far and we’ve got no intention of leaving.”