The Italians will play Germany in the quarter-finals on Saturday
Forget Italy's image of catenaccio (or "door chain defence"). Antonio Conte’s Italy showed in a 2-0 defeat of Spain at Euro 2016 on Monday that they can do unchained attacking football too.
The Azzurri, who will take on world champions Germany in a fascinating quarter-final on Saturday, had promised they would not be afraid to go forward against Spain.
They certainly kept to their word, creating scores of opportunities and forcing David De Gea to make several superb saves.
Italy’s defensive performance were outstanding, the back three of Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli shutting down the Spanish forwards and comfortably cutting the wingers’ crosses throughout.
“It was definitely a great performance. I’m pleased because this is a team who play football,” said coach Conte, who was in the last Italian team to beat Spain in a competitive game at the 1994 World Cup.
“People think of Italy as a defensive side, but it’s not the case. I don’t coach players to counter attack. We are very well organised defensively but we are also organised going forward.”
Italy wasted several opportunities but their superiority in midfield, where they always field five players in a 3-5-2 formation, caused Spain plenty of trouble.
The disciplined football was possible because the Azzurri have embraced a club culture, Conte said.
“I’ve always said since I took over that the only route forward to achieve some semblance of success, was to try to be a club,” he said. “To try to be a team who play a league season. “There is no point in hiding the fact that it’s not the rosiest period in terms of football talent for Italy so we need to be a team from every perspective.”
Man-of-the-match Bonucci added: “We found a national team that has no top talents and we had to create a team, with a game plan, and Conte has been our leader."
Monday’s victory was all the sweeter for Italy since it came four years after they were humbled 4-0 in the Euro 2012 final.
“We had revenge on our minds and today we had something extra. We played well, we had positive feelings and so much willingness to do well," said Chiellini who scored Italy’s first in the opening half before Graziano Pelle added a late second.
"After years of Spain dominating, we have been able to get some revenge. This is just the beginning.”
Conte may have a midfield problem against Germany, however, since Daniele De Rossi sustained a hip injury and his replacement Thiago Motta, picked up a yellow card and will be suspended.