Friday, July 30, 2021

Bonucci wary of embattled Spain forward Morata as Italy play down favourites tag in Euro 2020 semi-f

SoccerNews in Serie A 6 Jul 2021

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Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci leapt to the defence of Juventus team-mate and embattled Spain forward Alvaro Morata ahead of their Euro 2020 semi-final showdown.

Spain’s Morata has been on the wrong end of criticism for his performances at Euro 2020, while he reportedly received death threats amid online abuse directed at his family.

Team-mates at club level for Juve in Serie A, Bonucci and Morata will face-off when Italy play Spain in Tuesday’s Euro 2020 semi-final at Wembley and the former heaped praise on the 28-year-old Spaniard.

“I was really struck by what happened to him and what we all have to go through,” Bonucci said of the death threats directed at Morata. “I’ve also had to go through what he has gone through, and I know what it’s like to read certain things and feel certain things as well.

“I’ve always been right behind him, he’s always had my support. Alvaro is a wonderful person, he is a great guy, a wonderful father, and a terrific footballer.

“He’s a complete striker, because he can run into space high up the pitch, makes late runs, holds the ball up well. He’s one of the best strikers in world football, thankfully at club football he is a team-mate of mine over the course of the season.

“We need to make sure we are switched on tomorrow [Tuesday], not only to keep an eye on Morata but the team as a whole.”

Spain are the highest scoring team at Euro 2020, with 12 goals from five games, including two strikes via Morata.

Bonucci was pressed on comparisons between Morata and Inter star Romelu Lukaku, whom Italy faced in the quarter-finals with Belgium.

“They are two top strikers,” the 34-year-old Bonucci said. “When you get to this level, this stage of the competition, all the countries you come up against and all of the strikers you face are terrific.

“Alvaro has some very specific qualities that are different attributes to what Lukaku is all about. We need to be very switched on in terms of fine margins and small details, to make sure we really can come away with a big result.”

Italy – riding a national record 32-game unbeaten streak – have only beaten Spain twice in their past 14 meetings in all competitions (D7 L5), a 2-1 friendly win in 2011 and, most recently, a 2-0 victory at Euro 2016 in the last 16, with goals from Giorgio Chiellini and Graziano Pelle.

The Azzurri are featuring in their 12th semi-final at a major tournament (Euros and World Cup), with only Germany (20) appearing at the final-four stage more often among all European sides.

Italy have progressed from nine of the previous 11 semi-final ties, including each of the past four – most recently in this competition in 2012 when they eventually lost in the final to Spain (4-0).

Roberto Mancini’s Italy have won all five of their matches at Euro 2020, the only side of the remaining final four with a 100 per cent record to date. Only at the World Cup (1990) have they won more games at a single major tournament (six), while the only European team to win each of their first six games at a major tournament was the Netherlands at the 2010 World Cup, when they suffered defeat to Spain in the final in South Africa.

But Bonucci played down the favourites tag, telling reporters: “I think when its Italy against Spain in a European Championship semi-final, there’s no such thing as a favourite. Yes, we have had a flawless run so far, but even though Spain have faced some issues, that doesn’t matter, we need to put it to one side.

“We really need to focus on what we need to do, where we can improve. We simply need to be motivated by the fact we’re coming up against such a great, prestigious side in a wonderful arena such as Wembley, in the knowledge we can make it to the final in a few days’ time.”

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