THE RED MIZZLE
The Fiver’s so excited it’s got joy stains [Tin spills, obviously – Fiver Ed]. Tis the day of the big Euro semi-final, see, the one between two countries who have a long and proud history of collecting silverware and knocking seven bells out of each other. We’re not just talking about the tika-taka torture inflicted by Spain in the Euro 2012 final or the merciless way Italy ended the Spaniards’ golden era four years later. Because the very first competitive meeting between Italy and Spain set the tone for a rivalry that has provided constant thrills for fans of sport and splatter movies alike, with their clash at the 1934 World Cup so keenly fought that several players were carried off on a stretcher and one of them, Mario Pizziolo, had his leg broken so badly that he never played for his country again and had to wait 54 years to pick up his winner’s medal.
Spain’s current manager, Luis Enrique, still sports a souvenir of his own last meeting with Italy: look closely when the camera pans to him later and you might just be able to spot a crumple on his face and a flame in his eye, evidence of the broken nose he suffered when Mauro Tassotti’s elbow went rogue at the 1994 World Cup, unnoticed by the officials despite an obvious blood trail. “Luis Enrique wanted to kill the referee and Tassotti,” the Red Fury’s then-physio, Senen Cortegoso, later revealed. Even later Luis Enrique and Tassotti met and made peace – all the same, it might be best if this match is skipped by viewers of a sensitive disposition, not to mention Ciro Immobile, whose readiness for battle is in doubt after he was pinned down by a poltergeist during the quarter-final victory over Belgium.
Yes, yes, The Fiver knows that times have changed and the Italian team, in particular, has become an outfit as slick as any worn by their mannequin, Roberto Mancini. But this is a semi-final and no quarter can be given. Mancini even reckons Immobile could turn out to be the hero despite his scare in the last match and his frightfully inconsistent finishing. “Often in a major tournament it is the most maligned player who can prove to be the match-winner,” bugled Mancini, unaware that he could just as easily have been giving a pep talk to Álvaro Morata.
Mind you, Spain’s much-criticised occasional goal-getter knows all too well from training sessions at Juventus how tough it is to escape the attentions of Giorgio Chiellini, once describing the challenge of trying to score against him as “like being put in a cage with a gorilla and you have to steal his food”. Let the battle commence.
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Follow the buildup to Italy 2-0 Spain in our Euro Not 2020 rolling news blog and then join Scott Murray for red-hot minute-by-minute updates from 8pm BST.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Ferran Torres and Rodri could have gone to the Olympics but they’re not because they went to the Euros. It’s too much. One tournament in a summer is enough. The clubs are the ones who pay the players and they need to protect their assets. The current match calendar is brutal and yet new competitions and tournaments keep being created” – Pep Guardiola is none too keen on these new football tournaments, like Big Sports Day, which was thrown on to the calendar in, erm, 776BC.
David Squires on unicorns and Gareth Southgate … the same thing for some people.