Spain v Italy is one of the great international football fixtures. As I described in a previous post, I was extremely excited about the game. So did it live up to the hype? In short, yes.
I’d only been to the Bernabeu on one previous occasion and as I’ve said before it was a decidedly odd experience, but this time it was much more positive.
Walking from the Cuatro Caminos area of the city meant I was able to see the crowds slowly building the closer I got to the ground. There was a pleasingly strange range of merchandise outside, Spain-Italy half-and-half scarves you expect, Australia, Bayer Leverkusen and Christmas scarves you don’t.
Once inside, seats taken high up above the goal at the North end of the stadium, I watched the rest of the ground slowly fill up as the players went through their warm-ups. Then as the teams made their way out onto the pitch, disaster. Someone turned up at the last minute and informed me that I was in his seat. Well, technically he wasn’t wrong, I’d sat in that seat because there was someone in my seat already – a father who said he’d been unable to get two tickets together for him and his son. It turned out, they were in the wrong part of the ground, but alas this drama took the length of the national anthems to resolve, so as a result I wasn’t able to properly enjoy Il Canto degli Italiani.
Spain were attacking my end during the first half, which meant I had a perfect view as Isco curled a free kick over the wall and beyond the despairing dive of Gigi Buffon to open the scoring. At the other end, David De Gea made a great save to keep out a header from Belotti, but it was mostly one-way traffic as Spain piled on the pressure. It was 2-0 just before the break as Iniesta laid the ball off to Isco and he made space for himself before finding the bottom corner with his shot.
The third goal which put the result beyond doubt was scored by Alvaro Morata, who started the move by laying the ball off to Sergio Ramos, who had stormed up the pitch with a lung-busting run reminiscent of his days as an attacking full back, and then tapped in when Ramos squared it back to him.
The noise in the stadium was one of the real highlights of the evening. While there was the almost obligatory whistling of Pique any time he touched the ball at the start, other fans reacted quickly to try and drown it out, even singing his name on occasion! By the end of the game the whistlers seemed to have realised how pointless it was and had largely given up.
Probably the biggest cheers of the night though were reserved for David Villa. With the game over as a contest, his emergence from the bench to warm up got the stadium going again, chanting for him to come on. He eventually did, though he probably spent more time on the sidelines ready to come on than he did on the pitch as it took an eternity for the ball to go out of play. The ovation he got as he came on for his 98th cap was worthy of Spain’s record scorer, something he had been denied with his unceremonious exclusion from the squad after the 2014 World Cup shambles.
Spain march on with qualification for the World Cup looking more or less assured. Italy will have to look to the play-offs for their route to Russia, where I’m hoping they won’t end up meeting Northern Ireland!