Euro 2016 has come to an end for the four Barça players in Vicente del Bosque’s Spain squad. The team chasing an unprecedented third European title in a row have crashed out to Italy in the round of 16. A poor first half performance proved to be Spain’s undoing, and although there was a vast improvement after the break, they were unable to turn any of their chances into goals.
Andrés Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Piqué and Jordi Alba played all ninety minutes of a game that was expected to be tight and tactical. But Italy shunned all the stereotypes by playing fast and with flair, and by the time of the break they were more than worthy leaders thanks to Giorgio Chiellini's 33rd minute finish. In fact, they would probably have led by more had it not been for some fine goalkeeping from David De Gea.
Spain livened up in the second half, and Italy dropped further and further back into defensive mode, but the Azurri coped with the pressure with typical finesse. Two of Spain’s best chances came in the 76th minute, when Iniesta volleyed just over, and a minute later when Piqué was through on Buffon, but the Italian keeper produced a fine save.
With the game entering injury time, Spain hurled everything forward in desperate search of an equaliser. That gave Italy the chance to break on a counter attack that ended with Pelle tucking away Italy’s second – and there was no chance of the Spanish coming back from there.
Speaking after the game, Iniesta admitted that “we got it wrong in the first half. We were too concerned about what they were doing and paid the price. We went at them in the second half and it was a different game … This is a disappointment that we’re just going to have to accept. They were more effective at the right moments and that’s why they beat us.”
Spain’s Euro 2016 journey is over. Instead it’s Italy who march on for what promises to be a gripping quarter final against world champions Germany.