Three key battles: Italy vs Spain

Where could the game be won and lost? Our team reporters analyse the first semi-final.

Italy take on Spain in the opening UEFA EURO 2020 semi-final, having scored 23 goals between them in getting this far.

Neither side have lost a game at the finals yet; could these head-to-head contests decide whose unbeaten run will end at Wembley?

Jorginho vs Sergio Busquets

Paolo Menicucci, Italy reporter
Team-mates call Jorginho ‘Il Professore’ or ‘Radio Jorginho’ because of the continuous instructions the 29-year-old gives during games, nicknames that would probably suit Busquets too. Watch closely and you can see all the tiny but crucial contributions Chelsea’s deep-lying playmaker makes. “He lets us all play better,” said team-mate Manuel Locatelli. When it comes to footballing IQ, Busquets is also at genius level, so both teams will have a great orchestra conductor on the pitch.

Graham Hunter, Spain reporter
Jorginho possesses loads of skills which are akin to those of Sergio Busquets. Just take note of the fact that Pep Guardiola, at Manchester City, wanted to take on the Italian midfield organiser before Chelsea beat him to the deal.

Guardiola was the man who ‘discovered’ Busquets; the midfielder was about to be ushered out when the coach took over at Barcelona and he has been looking for a younger replica of the 32-year-old ever since he left the club. Busquets has revitalised Spain since returning for the Slovakia game, but will Jorginho’s greater athleticism and mobility give him the edge in midfield?

Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci vs Álvaro Morata

Paolo Menicucci, Italy reporter

Up against Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku in the last round, Italy’s veteran centre-backs (combined age: 70) came out with their usual masterclass in the art of defending. That was a physical duel, something Chiellini and Bonucci love, but their Juventus team-mate Morata presents a very different challenge. Spain’s No7 knows everything about Italy’s centre-backs, and can also cause plenty of problems with his constant movement. It will be a different kind of contest to the one with Lukaku, and not necessarily an easier one for Azzurri’s two defensive lions.

Graham Hunter, Spain reporter
At Juventus, Morata took regular chiding from Chiellini and Bonucci about the toughness of his character because they wanted him to realise his full potential. Morata is still happy-go-lucky, but the striker has matured since EURO 2016, when he was taken off with 20 minutes left of Spain’s 2-0 defeat against the Azzurri. He had a soupçon of revenge, scoring in a 3-0 European Qualifiers success a year later, but this is the test of tests. How ironic if it’s here, against his ‘maestri’, that Morata starts scoring freely again.

Gianluigi Donnarumma vs Unai Simón

Paolo Menicucci, Italy reporter
Donnarumma and Unai Simón have both showed two great qualities in goalkeepers during EURO 2020. For Simón, it was the ability to shake off mistakes; he needed a strong character to deal with his blunder from Pedri’s back pass against Croatia, but made heroic saves in that game before starring in the quarter-final shoot-out against Switzerland.

Donnarumma, meanwhile, has mastered maintaining focus after games when he may have felt like a non-paying spectator. Underemployed in the group stage (“I could have played those games,” said ex-Azzurri No1 Walter Zenga, now 61), he has stepped up since; Kevin De Bruyne may still be having nightmares about that save the Italy goalkeeper made against Belgium. “Gigio gives everyone security,” Zenga continued. “He can become the number one in the world.”

Graham Hunter, Spain reporter
At 24, Unai Simón is a couple of years older than Donnarumma, but he is way, way behind in terms of both club and international experience. When the Italian was making his AC Milan debut in Serie A – aged 16, in a 2-1 win over Sassuolo Calcio – Unai was still playing for Athletic’s feeder club, Basconia, in Spain’s fourth tier. Yet here they are today: two exceptional talents.

The Basque has more trophy wins: three to Donnarumma’s one, but the Italian has the higher profile by far. Where will he play his club football next season, after his contract with AC Milan expired? And will he, or Unai, have finished the summer by playing in a EURO final?