Dominant Spain brush past Italy to reach Euro 2024 knockouts

Nico Williams was the star for Spain as he supplied the cross from which the unfortunate Calafiori poked the winning goal into his own net.
Spain's midfielder Rodri (L) and teammates applaud fans on the pitch after the UEFA Euro 2024 Group B football match between Spain and Italy on June 20, 2024. Spain won the game 1-0.
Spain's midfielder Rodri (L) and teammates applaud fans on the pitch after the UEFA Euro 2024 Group B football match between Spain and Italy on June 20, 2024. Spain won the game 1-0.(Photo | AFP)

GELSENKIRCHEN: Spain qualified for the last 16 of Euro 2024 with a match to spare on Thursday after beating defending champions Italy 1-0 in a dominant display which ensured that La Roja would go through as Group B winners.

Riccardo Calafiori's own goal nine minutes after half-time was the difference between the two sides in the biggest match to date at the tournament in Germany.

But the slender margin of victory in Gelsenkirchen didn't reflect a statement performance from Spain who completely nullified Italy and should have had the game won by half-time, as they did in their opening round thumping of Croatia.

Nico Williams was the star for Spain as he ran Napoli right-back Giovanni Di Lorenzo ragged and supplied the cross from which the unfortunate Calafiori poked the winning goal into his own net.

"We had quite a few really good chances, but we're very happy because we showed that we are a great team and that we can stifle any team," said Spain captain Alvaro Morata.

Luis de la Fuente's team have a perfect six points at the top of the group and take on Albania on Monday knowing that they are already in the knockout rounds and playing like potential champions.

For Italy Thursday's deserved defeat was a reality check as vibrant Spain peppered the brilliant Gianliugi Donnarumma's goal throughout the match.

"We misplaced too many easy passes and didn't play with enough quality. If you make that many mistakes you are going to be punished," said Donnarumma who made eight saves.

It was a performance reminiscent of the Euro 2012 final between the two teams when Spain crushed Italy 4-0.

However all is not lost for Luciano Spalletti's team, who are second on three points, as a draw with Croatia on Monday will be enough to guarantee qualification behind Spain.

"We created some situations with which we could have equalised, but they were much better than us. They deserved to win," said Spalletti to RAI.

Williams shines for Spain

Spain could have been ahead twice in the first 10 minutes but squandered two great headed chances.

Less than two minutes were on the clock when an unmarked Pedri nodded Williams' pinpoint cross straight at Donnarumma.

And then Williams, who had a field day against Di Lorenzo, was the guilty party by somehow heading wide Morata's superbly delivered, inswinging ball from the left flank.

Spain were clearly on top as Italy struggled to get out of their half, Gianluca Scamacca toiling on his own up front with little support and wasting possession when it did come his way.

Donnarumma had to be at his best twice within a matter of seconds when he first stuck out a foot to deny Morata and then pulled off a superb fingertip save which kept out Fabian Ruiz's powerful drive from distance.

Meanwhile at the other end of the pitch Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon was a virtual spectator as Italy's sole shot in the first half came just before the break when Federico Chiesa blazed a poor effort over from a difficult position.

The same pattern of Spanish possession and Italian defending continued after half-time and Pedri again wasted a great chance in the 51st minute, slamming wide after Marc Cucurella pulled back a perfect low cross.

But Spain got the breakthrough soon after and it came through more sensational play from Williams on the left, who made mincemeat of Di Lorenzo before fizzing across a ball which Calafiori couldn't help but divert home.

La Roja went close to doubling their lead with two distance strikes from Morata and teen sensation Lamine Yamal, before the superb Williams smashed an effort past Donnarumma which came crashing out off the crossbar in the 71st minute.

Italy pushed forward in hope of an equaliser after Mattia Zaccagni and Mateo Retegui replaced the ineffective Chiesa and Scamacca.

But in the dying moments Donnarumma again made two superb saves to twice stop Ayoze Perez making the scoreline better reflect a one-sided contest.

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