Before today’s kickoff in Madrid, Spain had already met Italy four times this World Cup cycle, with the world champions posting a 2-1-1 record over Euro 2012’s runners up. Having already watched these teams for 360 minutes between Italy’s 2-1 win in Bari (Aug. 2011) through last summer’s 0-0 at the Confederations Cup, we knew what to expect from today’s game at the Vicente Calderón, part of the reason why Spain’s 1-0 win is merely a convincing if unremarkable reminder of what La Roja can do.
The Azzurri came close to claiming an early lead through two first half counter attacks, with Alessio Cerci hitting the led post on an early chance down the right. But with Spain dominating possession (albeit, with a lack of clear chances), the game went into halftime without a goal. As likely as the home side were to craft a breakthrough combination, Cesaré Prandelli’s team were just as likely to come good on one of their counter attacks.
In the 63rd minute, however, the odds broke in Spain’s favor. With a quick give-and-go through Andrés Iniesta, David Silva made his way through the Italian defense only to see a sprawling effort from the Azzurri back line prevent him from getting a shot on Gianluigi Buffon. But Pedro Rodríguez, coming in from the right, was able to pounce on the Silva’s dispossessed ball. His shot, fired near the feet of the Italian keeper, found the back of the net for the game’s only goal.
Up one, the monopoly of possession Spain had used to dictate the first hour allowed them to kill off the final 30 minutes. Come full time, the European champions had huge edges in possession (70-30), shots (21-3), and shots on target (5-1). Though the Italians flashed their potential early, that potential couldn’t prevent this from being a typical Spain versus Italy performance, with Italy on a 300-minute scoreless run against the European Champions.
In that way, it was difficult to glean anything new from Wednesday’s match. Coming into the day, we knew Spain was still Europe’s best, but their ability to control Italy told us little about their chances in a potential meeting with Brazil. If there is something new Vicente Del Bosque’s planning to try in Brazil, we didn’t see it in Madrid, even if Diego Costa finally made his long-awaited Spanish debut.
As for Italy, we know Cesaré Prandelli has made major strides with the team since 2010. Grouped with England, Uruguay, and Costa Rica, the Italians look like a good bet to get out of their group, even if the lopsided numbers at full-time in Spain hint the Azzurri are still a step behind the world’s elites.