Spain were handed their first European Championship defeat since 2004 as Croatia came from behind to stun the champions in their final group game. Nevertheless, they’ve been one of the best teams in the tournament so far and no team is as accomplished when it comes to knockout football.
Not since the Last 16 of the 2006 World Cup have Spain even conceded a goal in the knockouts at either the Euros or World Cup. That’s a run of 10 consecutive clean sheets with seven wins in 90 minutes and while five of the victories were either 1-0 or 2-0 scores their most commanding one was in the 2012 Final against the same opponents they face here.
Italy beat Spain en route to the final of USA ’94 but since then they’ve met on 11 occasions and have won only once, in a 2011 friendly in Bari. Italy’s recent record against teams in our top 10 is also a poor one and going back to the defeat in the final four years ago they’ve won just one of 12 such matches while losing six times. Removing home games that sample becomes W0-D3-L5.
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Italy were able to hit Belgium (who we rank just outside the top 10) on the break in their opening game but their real level was exposed as they labored to a win over Sweden in their second match and were then beaten by a poor Irish side in their final, admittedly meaningless, group game. Defensively they might be relatively solid but this isn’t a vintage Azzurri squad. However, that defence has helped them win either 1-0 or 2-0 in four of their last five matches and they’ll be confident of keeping things tight at the back.
Since 1996 the opening knockout round of the Euros (which has previously been the quarter-finals) has resulted in just one win in 90 minutes for the lower ranked side from 20 attempts (W1-D8-L11). 14/20 matches have had fewer than three goals and nine fewer than two, while six have finished goalless, so they’ve been undeniably tight affairs and the higher ranked side has kept 12 clean sheets.
A half-time draw definitely looks an option here and four of Spain’s seven knockout wins in 90 minutes since 2008 have been Draw/Win doubles. Moreover, they’ve all been to nil and with Italy’s weak attack we really like the look of a Spain clean sheet here. The Spain win and Under 2.5 Goals (i.e. either 1-0 or 2-0) at 3.3 is a very tempting bet but we just prefer the clean sheet given the low scoring nature of this tournament.
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