So that’s what it feels like. After three years at the helm, after winning a European Championship and setting a new world record, Roberto Mancini finally tasted defeat. After 37 games unbeaten in Portugal in September 2018, Italy has finally lost. Two first-half goals from Manchester City’s Ferran Torres put Spain on the path to victory at San Siro and the Nations League final on Sunday against France or Belgium at the same stage. “Historic,” said midfielder Koke.
It’s not the same, of course, but it was kind of revenge. Defeated in the semifinals at Wembley, Spain beat Italy at home. Mancini had reminded people that Spain was the team they had struggled with the most and that it was bound to happen someday, somewhere, but few expected it here and now. Luis Enrique’s team arrived with injuries and absences, debates raging, and with teenagers too, Yeremi Pino, 18, and Gavi, 17, making their debuts. Still, if they were helped by Leonardo Bonucci’s red card just before half-time, they were superb.
They have also built themselves into the image that their manager – often questioned, often justified – had demanded. “We’re going to go out there and attack because we don’t know how to do anything else,” Luis Enrique said. The risks remained, he knew, and to begin with, the Italian press set a trap into which Spain fell. Three times they lost the ball in compromising positions in the first six minutes, with Unai Simón having to make a brutal save from Federico Chiesa and then another easier from Nicolò Barella.
The manager of Spain, however, is nothing if not stubborn. Bold too, as evidenced by the inclusion of Gavi, who only played 279 senior minutes in La Liga. The teenager and his new teammates began to take hold of the game, and soon they started to sink. They took the lead early, Marcos Alonso finding Mikel Oyarzabal in the 15th minute. His wonderful cross found Torres. While jumping, he guided a volley with the side foot into the corner.
Time to get the word ‘wrong’ out of his job description: Torres does better than one goal every other game for Spain. It was his 11th international goal in his 21st game. Just before half-time, he had his 12th.
By this time, Alonso’s shot had slipped through Gianluigi Donnarumma’s hands and against the post at one end, while a cleverly disguised shot from Federico Bernardeschi was pushed against the post at the other. The most important moments were the moments when Lorenzo Insigne missed a clear opportunity alone at the penalty spot in the 34th minute, and where Bonucci led with his arm over Sergio Busquets 10 minutes later, saving a second yellow card. The fact that the scales had shifted was confirmed when a wonderful blow involving Alonso, Pablo Sarabia and Oyarzabal saw Torres take the lead in second.
Torres only lasted four minutes of the second half, replaced by another teenager in Yeremi Pino, who was introduced as Torres made his way to the bench where the ice was applied, but his job was done and the Spain still dominated. Oyarzabal, exceptional throughout, blocked a shot and then gave Koke a shot before Pino lifted a nice cross which he nodded just past the post.
Pino was making his debut and making the most of it, providing an incision. He was having fun on the right, triggering Alonso with a brilliant pass that left the Chelsea full-back alone in the area only for Donnarumma to save.
It kept Italy and they weren’t going to give up their record easily. A break eight minutes from the end made the match, with Pau Torres committing an error on a Spanish corner and Chiesa running half the length of the pitch to lay down on an easy finish for Lorenzo Pellegrini and set up a tense final, but the end has finally come, three long years later.