Thursday was one of the last chances to see Italy play in a friendly before they step onto French turf to open up the European Championships against Belgium. The opponent just so happened to be that of defending European champion Spain, the team that beat Italy in the final of the 2012 tournament.
The end result was a 1-1 draw at the venue formerly known as the Stadio Friuli, with Italy and Spain scoring goals within all of about three minutes apart from one another. Some of the game was a sight to behold. Other parts were probably something you'd wish you could wipe off of your DVR as soon as the final whistle blew.
All in all, the reviews coming out of the game are mostly positive for Antonio Conte and his squad, and they undoubtedly head into their friendly next week against Germany in Munich — of course it has to be there, huh? — with plenty of momentum. That's not always been the case when we sit here in the hours after an Italy game during Conte's tenure. Even a good number of the Azzurri's wins under Conte haven't been praised as much as this 1-1 draw against Spain has been.
So, yeah, the vibe surrounding Italy is pretty good right now. Whether it's the same after Italy face the reigning World Cup winner four days from now still remains to be seen, of course.
With that being said, let's discuss some things, okay?
- It's sounding more and more like it was a good thing I missed the first half because apparently nothing of substance happened. The haircut I got, though, is looking wonderful right now. So there's that.
- As Italy started to come to life in the second half, I couldn't help but think to myself, "Imagine if Italy play this well when Claudio Marchisio and Marco Verratti are in the starting lineup at the Euros." It's nothing against Thiago Motta and Marco Parolo, but I like Marchisio wearing the No. 8 jersey and starting in the center of Italy's midfield.
- Surprise, surprise! Simone Zaza came off the bench in the second half, ran his ass off for 30 or so minutes and was part of Italy actually showing it can be a threat going forward. If you want to think of a guy whose current-day role is crystal clear for both club and country, you have one Simone Freakin' Zaza.
- Offside, sure, but Gigi Buffon made a rare mistake that directly led to Spain's goal. Even superhuman players make mistakes every once in a while, I guess.
- Now we talk about Insigne, easily Italy's Man of the Match after coming on at halftime. I was joking with our SB Nation brethren from The Siren's Song that they can now pay attention to the game because Insigne is actually on the field. And for a guy who seems to split thoughts from fans let alone Antonio Conte, that was quite the statement game from the diminutive Napoli forward.
- Along those same lines, how about that debut from Federico Bernardeschi? The boy can play, and I sure do hope that Conte takes him to France as part of the 23-man squad. He's starting to show he's going that extra something that Italy could definitely use to its advantage.
Also, I would like Juventus to go and sign Bernardeschi this summer. It would make me a very, very happy person because I like when Juve go and sign young players the club can build around.
- A potential trident in attack with Insige-(insert prima punta here)-Bernardeschi? Where do I sign my name in support of this?
- The ESPN commentators talked about Conte going to Chelsea and then Leonardo Bonucci following his former manager at Juventus to London as something that's not as crazy as it seems. Chelsea needs defenders because they're old or not very good or both, Bonucci is one of the best defenders in Europe, and then the obvious Conte factor.
I then went on to have a good laugh. Quite a bit of one, actually.
- David De Gea is good. Man, he's really, really good.
- Along with about half of Spain's players who were forward, Alvaro Morata was offside the second the cross was sent in to Italy's penalty area. It was one of the few moments where Morata was actually involved in something Spain did against Italy. That's because in 85 minutes of game time, Morata only had 42 touches. That's not exactly the best way to get a player playing some pretty good ball right now truly incorporated in a game where your offense did next to nothing for the first 45 or 50 minutes.
- Is Spain's regression as noticeable to you guys as it was to me during this game? Not to say that they aren't good anymore, but they're certainly not the dominant force that they were when they won the European Championships in 2012. They obviously have some of their main core players from four years ago showing signs of getting older, with some of their younger players still trying to truly establish themselves as regulars. Maybe it's one of those weird in between years where they're not totally over the hill but not truly considered a young team, either.
Spain will probably still enter the tournament as one of the favorites. I'm not so sure that they will be able to live up to that lofty hype, though.