Azzurri aim to halt Spanish march
Italy players warm up during a training session in Vienna
Italy coach Roberto Donadoni knows his side must take care of the pace in Spain's attack when the teams meet in the last UEFA EURO 2008™ quarter-final in Vienna on Sunday – but is urging his players to "enjoy themselves" on the ultimate stage.
Having conceded four goals in the tournament so far, the Azzurri will next try to thwart the feared strike force of David Villa and Fernando Torres, who shared five goals between them as Spain won Group D with a perfect record. Although Donadoni recognises the strengths of a side that beat his own 1-0 in a March friendly, he is confident Italy can build on Tuesday's Group C victory against France by prolonging an undefeated run in competitive matches against Spain stretching back 88 years.
"We played Spain recently and they are a great team," the coach said. "They haven't always done well in big tournaments but this will spur them on, so we must be just as motivated as them. They are not very physical but they have great pace. We've learned a lot from each other but you can't compare a friendly with the quarter-finals of a EURO. And we have our strengths too. The boys must remember to enjoy themselves, because to enjoy yourself you have to play well. If they do that they can achieve anything."
Although Donadoni insists the Azzurri will not alter the way they play, one conundrum looms large for the 44-year-old, and that is how to replace Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso. Both AC Milan midfielders, who played so well in the triumph over France, are suspended for the Ernst-Happel-Stadion encounter. Massimo Ambrosini should return while Pirlo's place could go to AS Roma midfielder Alberto Aquilani – a decision Donadoni will only make on the morning of the match. Italy's sole injury concern since their last outing is the knee problem that has ended defender Andrea Barzagli's tournament.
Spain coach Luis Aragonés also concedes he is in a quandary over team selection but for very different reasons. While Italy lost their first group game and drew their second, La Roja have a 100 per cent record in the finals so far. The same XI won their first two matches, against Russia (4-1) and Sweden (2-1), before Aragonés made ten changes for Wednesday's 2-1 defeat of holders Greece. On the eve of Sunday's contest, the 69-year-old said he has "no team in mind". He is, however, sure of victory.
"I am convinced we will win," he asserted, as Spain aim to put six UEFA European Championship quarter-final defeats behind them. "I have no doubt these players are ready to give 110 per cent. We have to think positively, and this side is doing just that. My glass is half-full and inside I am sure we are going to go through." Aragonés, who cites Fabio Grosso and Luca Toni as potential danger men, will be buoyed by defender Carles Puyol's return from a foot injury and now believes Spain can lift the Henri Delaunay trophy for the first time since 1964. "I believe this squad can put an end to our problems once and for all," he concluded.
Spain midfielder Andrés Iniesta warms up before training