Spain approach Italy clash with doubts after defeat against Croatia

What a difference five minutes can make in modern football, especially at a Euro finals that has seen an abundance of late goals and shocks.

With just five minutes remaining in Wednesday's Group D clash between Spain and Croatia, Spain were sitting pretty with a useful 1-1 draw that would have left them top of the group and heading for the easier half of the knockout bracket against one of the third-placed teams as their round of 16 opponents.

Instead, La Roja allowed Croatia an unlikely late winner and in consequence Spain must now face Group E winners Italy.

Monday's match in Saint-Denis in a repeat of the 2012 final which Spain won 4-0. The sides also met at Euro 2008, with Spain winning the quarter-final on penalties en route to the title.

"We know that Italy are going to be difficult opponents, they always are," said midfield anchorman Sergio Busquets.

"They will be keen to take revenge on us. We are sure of that ... but we think that we have the resources to be able to deal with them."

Midfielder Koke named the chances of progressing 50-50 because "there is no favourite in a match with two such big teams. It will be a hard-fought match and we must play really well to advance."

According to media reports, Koke could make the starting 11 for the first time at the tournament as coach Vicente del Bosque is considering changes, with Thiago and Aritz Aduriz also tipped to be brought in.

"We all want to play, especially in a game of such importance," Koke said. "But if we are not in the starting lineup then we should just accept that and not start complaining."

The Atletico Madrid midfielder was apparently referring to winger Pedro, who kicked up a fuss when he realized he wasn't going to be first-choice against Croatia.

Del Bosque says he has forgiven Pedro but seems to be in no hurry to put the Chelsea winger on the field.

Del Bosque has been quick to defend keeper David de Gea after his shaky display against Croatia, and is sure to opt for him again Monday instead of going back to veteran Iker Casillas.

"I don't think we lost because of De Gea. We lost for many reasons. We are all to blame.

"Italy have a lot of virtues and we will need to show them a lot of respect. They are very dangerous and efficient in both penalty areas.

"But we are in a good situation. We have a lot of respect for Italy but we are looking forward to causing them problems."

Monday's game could be Del Bosque's swansong on the Spain bench, given that he has said many times that he intends to retire after the tournament.

But Celta Vigo forward Nolito believes that more games are to follow in France because of the class of the Spanish side around playmaker Andres Iniesta.

"Spain i Spain and has a good team. We respect all opponents but we don't have to be afraid of anyone," Nolito said.

The Azzrri also lost their last match, 1-0 against Ireland with several reserves as they had already won the group.

Antonio Candreva is set to return into the line-up, and Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini expects details make the difference even though "Spain appear unbeatable" on paper.

Antonio conte's team has surprised so far in Spain and Chiellini hopes that this will continue Monday.

"No one believed in Italy but now we are here. It is nice to dream and we are allowed to, but without forgetting reality," he said.

"It will be a great game. It is a pity that it comes in the last 16 but that only motivates us even more."

Last update: Sat, 25/06/2016 - 10:29
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