World champions Italy go into their quarterfinal against Group D winners Spain as underdogs after the two progressed to the knockout stage in completely different ways. The winner of this last quarterfinal takes on Russia in the last four, with Guus Hiddink’s side knocking out the Dutch in their last eight encounter.
Italy lost to the Netherlands, and were on the brink of elimination against Romania, but were saved by Gianluigi Buffon, and then managed to beat France 2-0 to come second in Group C. Roberto Donadoni was lambasted by the Italian press after the loss to the Dutch, but Italy seem to have recovered, and one feels they cannot go even further down from here. Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso are suspended which means Perotta, De Rossi and Ambrosini should all start. Defender Andrea Barzagli is injured, and we should see Panucci and Chiellini in defence, with Zambrotta on the right and Grosso on the left. Donadoni is likely to stick with Antonio Cassano and the powerful Luca Toni in attack, leaving Alessandro del Piero on the bench.
Spain won all their three group games, although the comfort levels dipped with each game. Luis Aragones will also hope that his team does not fall prey to the winners’ curse that seems to have struck this tournament. All the teams that won their first two games with their regular teams and fielded a reserve lineup for the last group game have been knocked out in the last eight- Portugal, Croatia and Holland losing to Germany, Turkey and Russia respectively. Spain’s main threat will come from their awesome twosome of Fernando Torres and David Villa- the duo accounted for five of Spain’s eight goals at the group stage. However this tournament is already drawing parallels to their 2006 WC campaign, where they were knocked out by underdogs France in the last eight. Spain are expected to stick to their normal starting XI- Casillas in goal, Marchena, Puyol, Ramos and Capdevila in defence, Silva, Iniesta, Senna and Xavi in midfield, and Torres and Villa upfront.
Spain have a jinx with the date 22- they lost to South Korea in 2002, England in 1996 and Belgium in 1986, all on this day. Their last major encounter against Italy saw the latter win 2-1, in a game where Tasotti broke Spanish forward Luis Enrique’s nose. The game to be 1-1 after 120 minutes, and Italy to win on penalties.