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Spain Relishing Euro 2024 Contenders Tag as Italy Bemoan Shortcomings in Heavyweight Clash

Spain followed up their victory over Croatia by brushing aside the defending champions, emphatically underlining their title credentials. Spain manager Luis de la Fuente is pleased that his team is increasingly being seen as strong contenders to win Euro 2024.

La Roja secured their place in the knockout stages after Thursday night’s commanding 1-0 win over defending champions Italy in Gelsenkirchen, decided by Riccardo Calafiori’s second-half own goal. Spain, who had beaten Croatia 3-0 in their opening game in Group B, the so-called ‘Group of Death,’ had 20 shots to Italy’s four and dominated the match throughout.

“I saw the potential that my team boasts — the ability to really make light work of a top-class side like Italy,” said De la Fuente. “Italy won the Euros three years ago, and we were still a long way off winning it, so I like the fact people are speaking about us and considering that we could win [it now].”

The Italians, who beat Albania 2-1 on Saturday, need only a draw against Croatia on Monday to advance to the round of 16. However, they were heavily reliant on goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma on Thursday night. He kept the score down with crucial saves against Fabian Ruiz, Ayoze Perez, and man-of-the-match Nico Williams.

The Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper expressed his frustration, saying, “We are angry. Let's use this to motivate ourselves for the next games. Our destiny is in our hands.”

Italy manager Luciano Spalletti had labeled the match a ‘European Clasico’ beforehand but offered a candid assessment of his team’s performance afterward. “There was too much of a gulf in terms of sharpness and freshness,” he said. “We were never in the game. Everyone would love to copy Spain. They have played the best football for the longest time. I need to make my players aware of how important this match is because it becomes very challenging if you just sit deep. We just chased after the ball and ceded it to them. I'm the least-suited [coach] to do that, so you need to keep possession.”

Spalletti suggested he might have overworked his players leading up to the match. “Maybe I needed to give them more rest, more days off, because we gave them a day-and-a-half and thought that was [enough], but there was too much of a gulf,” he said.

Spain's victory on Thursday night, coupled with Albania’s 2-2 draw with Croatia in Hamburg on Wednesday, means they have already won Group B with a match to spare. De la Fuente now has the option of rotating his team for Monday’s final group game against Albania in Düsseldorf.

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