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Exactly four years ago, Spain and Italy battled in the final of the Euro 2012. Spain, with eight Barça players in the squad, were vastly superior and won, 4–0, to become the first team to ever repeat as continental champs.
The protagonists of that final were Barça full-back Jordi Alba, who scored Spain's second goal of the day, and Andrés Iniesta, who was named tournament MVP.
Today, this time in the last 16 of Euro 2016, the two long-time foes are set to meet again. And although this time Spain has just four Barça players — Gerard Piqué, Sergio Busquets, Iniesta and Alba — all are regulars in Vicente del Bosque's starting eleven. More importantly, they know what it takes to beat Italy. Not just from the 2012 final, but from four other duels — the group stage of that Euro 2012 (1-1) and the semi-final of the 2013 Confederations Cup, which was Spain won in a penalty shootout following a scoreless draw.
More recently, however, was a friendly in 2014, which also ended with a Spain victory, 1–0, followed by a 1–1 draw in March 2016. But before all that, Italy beat Spain, 2–1 in a 2011 friendly featuring nine Barça players on Spain's roster.
The golden blaugrana age
From 2008 to 2016, the two teams clashed rather frequently. Barça players were always present, especially for Spain, whose style of play closely mimicked Barça's philosophy as it went on to dominate global football, winning the 2008 and 2012 European Championships and the 2010 World Cup. Eight Barça players helped Spain win the Euro 2012 final against Italy (Iniesta, Alba, Sergio, Piqué, Xavi Hernández, Pedro Rodríguez, Víctor Valdés and Cesc Fàbregas); seven aided Spain to the 2010 World Cup (Iniesta, Sergio, Piqué, Xavi, Pedro, Valdes and Carles Puyol); and three were there in 2008 (Puyol, Iniesta and Xavi).
Spain and Italy played twice in 2008. The first was a friendly that Spain won, 1-0. The second came with much more on the line, as the Spain side, coached by Luis Aragonés, beat Italy in a penalty shootout that sent them through to the semi-finals. FC Barcelona full-back Gianluca Zambrotta played for Italy.
The two sides also battled in one of the more infamous matches in World Cup history, with Italy coming out on top over a Barça-studded Spain in a controversial game in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The game came in the 1994 World Cup with blaugranes Andoni Zubizarreta, Albert Ferrer, Jon Andoni Goikoetxea, Pep Guardiola, Txiki Beguiristain, Barjuán, Bakero, Salinas and Miquel Ángel Nadal all in the Spain squad. Following on from the group stage, the two countries met in the quarter-finals with Italy coming out on top 2-1.
However, the game is remembered not for the win by Arrigo Sacchi’s team but rather an incident involving current Barça coach Luis Enrique, who was a Real Madrid player at the time. Italian full back Mauro Tassoti caught the Asturian in the nose with a flying elbow in the final minutes, the image of the bloodied Spanish midfielder one of the most iconic that that year’s edition of the competition in the USA. The two rivals will come together once more in the last 16 of Euro 2016 in a game that kicks off at 6.00pm CET in the Stade de France, Paris.
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