Italy miss a golden chance to take Spain full-circle

Italy were defeated in the Confederations Cup semi-final on penalties by Spain.

For Italy to take Spain to the brink of defeat, losing only penalties may seem a small moral victory, given their 4-0 mauling a year ago in the final of Euro 2012.

But for a proud footballing nation with four World Cups won, no kind of defeat is ever a proud moment, even against a team as dominant as Spain.

Spain for years were the also-rans of international football, who went into every tournament hoping it would 'be their year', usually finding a new way of confounding the odds by wilting under the increasing expectation.

They appeared to have cracked it at World Cup 2006, flying through the group stages with a Fernando Torres at his peak the star turn, only to be defeated by the old guard of France in the second round 3-1, a Zinedine Zidane inspired performance.

By time they faced Italy in the Euro 2008 quarter-finals, a wily team of professionals who had won the World Cup two years earlier, everybody predicted a Spain collapse, despite being the in-form team.

When the game went to penalties, the result seemed inevitable. Here comes the Spain implosion, lucky Italy to find a way through again.

Except it did not happen that way. Spain won.

It was the breakthrough they needed, a major victory in a knockout game against a top nation, and with it came the belief among the players and coaching staff that this Spain could be winners, and produce results to match their ability.

The rest as we know it is history, Spain lifted by the victory went onto win Euro 2008, World Cup 2010, and Euro 2012.

They will go into the World Cup 2014 favourites, regardless of the Confederations Cup Final result against Brazil this weekend.

But it will not be lost on Italy that in the penalty shoot-out last night, they had a chance to break Spain's tournament winning streak and bring it full circle, and hope to end their era of dominance.

As it is, it goes on, and any loss to Brazil will be seen as ego-denting and character building, a laying down of the gauntlet for next summer.

Perhaps Italy will hope Spain win, and they can be the ones to break Spain in 2014 - But last night was as close as anybody has come in seven years, and they will be cursing the missed opportunity.

image: © warrenski

Register for HITC Sport - Daily Dispatch