- Arthiac Team
The UEFA Nations League has given the fans a lot to cheer for, especially if you're a Portuguese fan as Cristiano Ronaldo and his Portugal side were the first to lift the Nations League trophy. However, they didn't make it this time around as Italy, Spain, France, and Belgium made it through to this year's semifinals and, first up, it was Italy that took on Spain at the San Siro in a game that was set to be a nail-biter. The hosts, Italy, had Donnarumma, Bonucci, and Chiesa as key names in Roberto Mancini's starting XI. The visitors from Spain were still without any Real Madrid personnel, including the likes of the national record holder for most appearances in their national squad, Sergio Ramos. Luis Enrique opted for Oyarzabal, with Ferran Torres and Pablo Sarabia leading the line, with Pau Torres and Aymeric Laporte in defence. Italy were looking to continue their world record unbeaten streak of 37 games at the San Siro as they looked at the opportunity to be winners of the UEFA Nations League after sealing the Euros in the month of July earlier this year.
The game began with Spain kicking off proceedings as the majority at San Siro began to whistle and jeer the men in red and navy blue. Both sides came gunning down at each other from the wings in the opening exchanges of the game. However, Italy nearly drew first blood as Spain's youngster from FC Barcelona, Gavi, gave the ball away from which the Italians looked to pounce on as Federico Chiesa took a shot on target which worked its way past Unai Simon in goal for Espana. Mancini's men kept pushing the visitor's behind as they restricted Spain from building from the back. The tempo picked up after the 10th minute mark as Spain found themselves in a really good position to open the scoring from the left hand side of Spain's attack, but the men in white got bodies in behind the line of the ball as the threat subsided. However, Spain have been threatening the right-hand side of the Italian defence and they made the most of it in their third attempt as the Spaniards broke through and Mikel Oyarzabal whipped a cross into the box which found Man City's Ferran Torres and the Spaniard from the blue side of Manchester stuck a foot out and placed it into the back of the net off his shin. He and Luis Enrique couldn't care less how he scored as long as it went in the back of the net as the men in red and navy blue silenced the San Siro. That goal certainly lifted the spirits of the visitors as Marcos Alonso found the ball at his feet as he lashed it towards goal, but Gigi Donnarumma spilled it, but he had to thank his veteran defender, Leonardo Bonucci, as he came right on time to clear the ball before Koke could poke it home.
The game grew into a much more physical affair as Italy looked for a response to claw their way back into the game. Bernardeschi nearly found the net as he was in front of the goal from the right-hand side of the Italian attack as he went for goal himself, which brought about yet another save from Unai Simon as he was aided by the frame of his goal post. Roberto Mancini's men kept coming at the Spaniard's as Emerson nicked the ball away and slid in a really good pass to Lorenzo Insigne, whose right-footed rifle was aimed off-target as a golden opportunity came and went by in the nick of time. The first-half grew worse for the Italians as Bonucci was given his marching orders after he received his second yellow card of the game as he lunged out his elbow on Sergio Busquets while going for an aerial challenge. Spain found themselves a goal up and a man up, and as Italy struggled to get through the first half with a goal down and a man down, Spain doubled their lead just before halftime as Oyarzabal found his strike partner, Ferran Torres, who headed it past Gigi Donnarumma, who was left stale and pale in goal. The first-half ended on a sour note for Italy as it looked like their 37-game unbeaten run was coming to an end based on the events that occurred in the first half as they were blown away by Spain at the San Siro.
The second half began with Italy getting things underway as they hoped for a turnaround. The Italians went ahead and made a change, with Chiellini coming on as a substitute for Bernardeschi. Italy were looking to push higher up the pitch and apply a lot of pressure, but Spain were so comfortable on the ball. Ferran Torres limped off in the opening minutes of the second half, which brought on yet another youngster in Yeremy Pino into the frame. Italy were feeding on scraps up front in the opening 10 minutes of the second half as they could not assert their dominance in the game. Mancini wasted no time in inserting Moise Kean and Manuel Locatelli into the picture to replace Insigne and Verratti. It was a positive change for the Italians as it looked like there was a little blue ray of hope when Chiesa came through on goal, one on one with Unai Simon as the Juventus forward just rattled the post. However, it was a lot of chasing upfront for the Italians as Spain found a lot of open spaces in the Italian back line. Oyarzabal could have sealed the deal as Yeremy Pino brushed away from Emerson to find his strike partner, but Oyarzabal's header was just wide of the post. Consequently, Jorginho was subbed off with Lorenzo Pellegrini coming onto the scene as the intention was clear from Mancini's side that he was looking to bring on fresh legs and attack Spain by applying pressure. Marcos Alonso had the opportunity to secure Spain's birth in the Nations League final as Yeremy Pino, but his shot on target worked the feet and tall stature of Gigi Donnarumma to get down and make a brilliant save as the Italian threw a few bodies on the line to deny Spain taking a 3-0 lead. The home fans looked to play their part as they booed and jeered the visitor's when they were in possession of the ball. As always, Chiellini headed the ball out and as Pau Torres took his time picking his pass, the evergreen, ever-running Federico Chiesa just nicked the ball away from the Spanish defender and was open on goal as clear as daylight, but the Juve forward decided to pass it on to his on-rushing partner, Lorenzo Pellegrini, as he tapped it into the goal. The San Siro erupted at the sight of that goal as the Italians kept sprinting left, right and centre to engineer yet another mistake from the Spaniards. That high press from Italy left a lot of open spaces at the back which Spain looked to capitalise on, but the likes of Di Lorenzo, Chiellini and Bastoni restricted them. It was a nail-biting finish to this game as the Spanish fans must have had their nails chopped fine and slick, but Unai Simon was a brave keeper to come in at the right time at the end to kill the forward passes that the Italians threw at them. However, Italy did not have much to offer, especially when they went a man down and Spain sealed their spot in the final of the Nations League, where they will face either France or Belgium.
Player ratings: Italy
Gigi Donnarumma: 3.5-Conceded twice in his career for the first time in his career. He pulled out a few saves, but he didn't have an answer for either of the goals.
Emerson 5.5-He played well, especially when he bombarded up front to be in sync with Italy's forward line. Although in defence, he was struggling with Yeremy Pino, dancing in and around his territory.
Bonucci: 1-He made an error in the first goal where he gave a lot of time for Oyarzabal to get the cross into the box. To top that off, he received his second yellow card and was sent off for a silly challenge. Unacceptable!
Bastoni: 5-He showed a lack of commitment in the opening goal of the game, but showed great character in the second half to keep Spain from scoring a third goal.
Di Lorenzo: 4.5-In the first half, he struggled to keep pace with Mikel Oyarzabal and Marcos Alonso. Made a few tackles right at the end of the second half.
Verratti: 5-kept the ball well enough and supplied it square to help the team generate play, but altogether, he had a quiet night by his standards.
Jorginho: 4.5-A performance way below par as his work was cut out for chasing and tackling.
Barella: 5-Looked to string a few passes in midfield, but he struggled to make an impact.
Insigne: 2-Looked to link up well with his teammates in the first half. However, his open miss on goal was the main downfall of his night.
Bernardeschi: 5-He had 1 really good attempt at goal which stung the palms of Unai Simon as he was the sacrificial lamb for Chiellini in the second half.
CHIESA: 7.5-Testing the keeper with some really good shots on target, and he was a constant threat running at the Spanish backline. It aided in giving hope to Italians all over the world.
Chiellini: 6-He was a key figure in defence after being introduced in the second half, but he couldn't marshal his troops to secure a victory. He was a real leader out there and his header in the build up to Italy's goal was crucial.
Moise Kean: 5-Run hard to close down the time and space for Spain to pass and play. Unfortunately, he didn't have much of an impact on the game. Got into spaces where he held the ball and would have laid a good pass to his teammates, but his touch was heavy.
Locatelli: 3-His involvement in the game was much more without the ball than with it.
Pellegrini: 7-Worked tirelessly to steal the ball from Spain and contributed immensely with a goal.
Calabria: 3-Didn't have much impact on the game.
Player ratings: Spain
Unai Simon: 7-Made a few really good saves in the first half. A much quieter second-half. A good day in between the sticks for the keeper.
Alonso: 6.5-He found joy along with Oyarzabal on the left-hand side of Spain's attack in the first half. He could've killed the game as he had the whole goal within his sight, but he couldn't seal the deal.
Pau Torres: 6-Had a pretty good game except for the error which led to Italy scoring a goal.
Laporte: 6.5-He had a fairly quiet night in defence. Although he had to be alert during the final stages of the game.
Azpilicueta: 7-He kept things moving really well on the right-hand side of Spain's attack, linking up well with Sarabia and Yeremy Pino in either half. Concrete and reliable in defence.
Koke: 6-He kept things simple in midfield and kept Italy's threat at bay most of the time.
Busquets: 6.5-Kept things ticking in midfield for Spain. Another good day at the office.
Gavi 7.5-A very impressive performance from the 17-year old youngster as he ran his legs out on the field and made some really good runs forward too, and he bossed the midfield along with his senior team members. A bright star.
Oyarzabal: 8.5-He was able to run his own circus show down the left hand side of Spain's attack. Provided 2 really good assists.
Ferran Torres: 9.5-Unfortunately, he had to be subbed off just as the second half got underway with an issue with his ankle, but the impact he made in the first half by scoring those two goals put Spain in the driving seat.
Pablo Sarabia: 5-Had a quiet night in attack. A lot more was expected of the forward, although he made a few promising runs at the far end of the post when Spain were on the attack.
Yeremy Pino: 6-Started off on the right-hand side of Spain's attacking line and asked Emerson a few questions. He received a yellow card, but was very lively on the right-hand side of Spain's attack.
Merino: 5-Partial involvement in the game.
Bryan Gil: 5.5-He had a few opportunities to run in at the Italian backline and did quite well.
Sergio Roberto: 5-He was comfortable on the ball and kept it moving swiftly.