Euro 2016: Italy To Play Spain In Round Of 16

Italy is thriving in the Euro 2016 tournament. The Italians’ haven’t put on this impressive of a showing since the 2012 Euro Cup. Antonio Conte’s squad was arguably what critics called, “the worst team in Italian history.” Very few predictions from soccer experts had Italy advancing far in the tournament or even out of the group stage. Those critics are probably eating their words after they soundly defeated Sweden this Friday and advanced to the next round.

Spain’s loss to Croatia bumped the Spaniards down to second place in group D. This ensures that the Italians will take on Spain in the round of 16. Spain defeated Italy in the 2012 Euro Cup final 4-0 in 2012. A year later two teams squared off in the 2013 Confederations Cup semifinals where Italy lost in a penalty shootout.

Italy will truly be put to the test when they take on the reigning Euro Cup champions. Spain has had Italy’s number over the years. Just because they had a moment of weakness against Croatia doesn’t mean that La Roja can’t pick apart the Italians. However, this time around it looks like Italy has the chance to prove that the last Euro Cup final was a fluke.

Euro 2016: Italy To Play Spain In Round Of 16 Milan Badelj of Croatia controls the ball during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group D match between Croatia and Spain [Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images]Italy is historically known for having a strong defense and that also held true to this current Italian team. What is mainly consisted of the “Juventus” defense has proved impenetrable for Italy’s opponents thus far. Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, and Andrea Barzagli were too much for the Swedish offense.

Superstar Zlatan Ibrahimović was shut down for the entire contest. He did manage to get some separation and botched a wide open shot at the back of Italy’s net. Luckily, Ibrahimović was called offside by the referee so he didn’t have any explaining to do. A shot like that should be a shoo-in for a soccer player of his caliber.

One of the biggest criticisms of this Italian team was their lack of quality firepower. Graziano Pellé, Simone Zaza, and Ciro Immobile are arguably the best strikers on the team. Aside from Immobile, who was the leading goal scorer in Serie A in the 2013 season, the rest were highly unproven. The Italian offense isn’t the most spectacular but what they do know how to do is execute when it is most important.

Italy beat Belgium so handily due to the fact that they countered Belgium’s attacks efficiently. They also have a new bold approach to their offensive style, something that the Italians haven’t probably had since 2006. This squad in no way can compare to the 2006 World Cup winning team, but they do appear to have some similar attributes.

Italy definitely has already paved the path to go far into the tournament. A win against Ireland this upcoming Wednesday would ensure that this high Italy is experiencing isn’t a fluke. Being the first place in Group E would ensure that they are the only team in the entire tournament without a loss or a draw.

Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon recently stated that he feels his squad could go “all the way.” The Italian veteran is 38-years-old and still playing at the top of his game. He is the cornerstone of the Italian team’s heart and pride. He currently has a slight fever and will most likely sit out of the game against Ireland.

Euro 2016: Italy To Play Spain In Round Of 16 Gianluigi Buffon of Italy [Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images]Going a little further down the line, if the Italians make it to the finals, they could possibly end up facing longtime rival France. France have been the favorites to win the Euro 2016 tournament on their home turf. The last time the Euro Cup was played in France they also took home the gold. France has a very young team, and they have put on an impressive show so far.

[Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images]