Soccer-New look Spain and Italy meet in highly anticipated Euro clash


FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Euro 2024 - Group B - Spain v Croatia - Berlin Olympiastadion, Berlin, Germany - June 15, 2024 Spain players pose for a team group photo before the match REUTERS/Annegret Hilse/File Photo

DORTMUND, Germany (Reuters) - Retooled versions of Spain and Italy meet on Thursday in a highly anticipated Euro 2024 Group B encounter between the winners of three of the last four European Championships.

Both sides have shown a different style of football in Germany from what fans typically expect.

Spain thrashed Croatia 3-0 in their opener on Saturday playing a faster, more direct approach than the possession-based "tiki-taka" style which saw them crowned European champions in 2008 and 2012 as well as World Cup winners in 2010.

With their golden generation of pass masters Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Xabi Alonso long gone, Spain have transitioned to a more flexible approach under new manager Luis de la Fuente which is better suited to the young, versatile squad at his disposal.

Against an ageing Croatia side, Spain applied a relentless high press combined with quick transitions that seemed to catch their rivals off-guard.

"We are turning the national team into a team that have many faces," De la Fuente told a press conference on Saturday.

"The other countries no longer know what kind of attack we are going to implement and this is a reason to be very happy because it could put Spain back on the level that is expected from us."

With doubt surrounding the status of midfielder Rodri and captain Alvaro Morata after they picked up injuries against Croatia, De la Fuente, 62, has been keeping his cards close to his chest for Thursday's match, closing Spain's practice to the media for two consecutive days.

Defending champions Italy, beaten 4-0 by Spain in the 2012 final, see little point in trying to disguise their intentions.

Tasked with restoring belief for fans devastated by their failure to quality for the last two World Cups, manager Luciano Spalletti has put his own mark on the side since taking over last year after winning the Serie A title with Napoli.

Steering clear of Italy's traditional 'defence-first' Catenaccio system, Spalletti has implemented a more attack-minded approach, which they used to great effect in beating Albania 2-1 in their opener.

Under Spalletti Italy seek to control possession and dominate small areas of the pitch with intense pressure, allowing Nicolo Barella and Lorenzo Pellegrini to service forwards Davide Frattesi and Federico Chiesa on the wings.

If styles make fights, Thursday's match in Gelsenkirchen should be a cracker.

(Reporting by Fernando Kallas; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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