FORTALEZA. Italy coach Cesare Prandelli urged his players to follow the example of Confederations Cup conquerors Spain after the Azzurri lost an agonising penalty shoot-out 7-6 in the semifinals in Fortaleza.
Centre-back Leonardo Bonucci had the misfortune to blink first in the shoot-out, hoisting his shot high over the bar at Estadio Castelao and providing Jesus Navas with an opportunity to send Spain into a final against hosts Brazil.
It was nonetheless a vastly improved performance by Italy, a year on from their crushing 4-0 loss to Spain when the teams last met in the final of the 2012 European Championship.
Confounding pre-match expectations, Italy dominated the first half, as Prandelli’s decision to deploy a compact 3-4-2-1 system denied Spain’s midfielders space in the centre of the pitch.
The two wing-backs both played significant roles as well. Marauding right wing-back Christian Maggio went close on three occasions in the first half, while Emanuele Giaccherini hit the post in extra time.
Prandelli said he could not fault his players’ desire and encouraged them to draw inspiration from the way that Spain’s all-conquering tiki-taka style has developed over the last five years.
“They have been a great team these last years, they’ve shown continuity in their game, and we would also like to have continuity in our game,” said the former Fiorentina coach.
“Tonight (Thursday) we’ve been up to the task, we’ve matched them stride for stride. We tried to play on the ground and we showed great courage and willingness.”
Italy will now meet Uruguay in Sunday’s third-place play-off in Salvador, and Prandelli feels the gallant nature of their loss to Spain will give them renewed belief for the challenges ahead.
“This match has been a great test for us, no doubt about that, and we passed it despite the result,” he said.
“We were convinced about how we needed to play, in both technical and tactical terms, and I’m certain that we need to keep persevering.
“We proved that we have the quality to battle it out with the best.”
However, following a game played amid high temperatures and heavy humidity, he was critical of the fact that Italy will only have three days to recover before tackling Oscar Tabarez’s side at Arena Fonte Nova.