The European giants fight in Enschede on Thursday night as Spain and Italy square off in the UEFA Nations League semifinals for the second time in two years.

Back in 2021, La Roja won the match before losing to France in the championship match. In this case, the winner advances to play either Croatia or the Netherlands in the championship game on Sunday.

Spain started the Nations League season last year at this time with two draws and two victories. Although they lost their first match in September to Switzerland, the results in Braga allowed them to secure a spot in the final four.

La Roja was grateful for a late Alvaro Morata goal to defeat Iberian rivals Portugal and take first place in League A Group 2 after coming within minutes of missing out on a second consecutive semi-final participation. The loss in Switzerland, though, was Spain’s first at home since 2018 and provided the first indications that Luis Enrique’s reign as manager might be coming to an end.

The former Barcelona manager was dismissed by Luis de la Fuente following a lackluster World Cup campaign in Qatar, as his team narrowly advanced to the knockout rounds before being eliminated by Morocco.

The latter’s first few months in charge of Spain weren’t entirely straightforward, as they won their opening match against Norway in the Euro 2024 qualifying round before suffering a deserving loss in Scotland that brought to light past mistakes.

De la Fuente, a former full-back for Athletic Club during his playing days, will now preside over Spain’s seniors in just his third match in command, and a win would put them just 90 minutes away on Sunday from winning a trophy.

After ending Italy’s record-breaking 37-match unbeaten streak in 2021, La Roja must overcome an Azzurri opponent once more to go to the final. They failed at the very last obstacle, though.

Spain and Italy are no strangers to one another, as Roberto Mancini’s team defeated their neighbors in the Mediterranean on the way to winning the 2021 European Championship.

Since those heady times, the Azzurri have endured further World Cup heartbreak, and at one point, Mancini’s job was even in jeopardy. The team’s failure to qualify for Qatar 2022 as a result of a playoff loss to North Macedonia brought damnation and their crushing defeat by Argentina in the Finalissma added to their woes.

Italy found a way to defeat both England and Hungary in their final two games to finish first in a section that also included Germany, who had easily defeated the opposition 5-2 when the teams met in Dortmund after a sluggish start to their Nations League group.

Having placed third at home two years ago, they thereby earned a spot at a second straight Nations League finals competition.

Then, in Turin, they defeated Belgium to win the bronze medal as compensation for their semi-final loss to Spain.

Italy, who was once again paired with England in the Euro 2024 qualifying campaign, fell 2-1 to the Three Lions in March before defeating Group C underdogs Malta three days later. Mateo Retegui, a new signing from Argentina who recently naturalized, scored in both games.

After three Serie A clubs lost their respective club finals in Europe, La Nazionale met again this week. Mancini’s senior team must now strive to break that trend and restore Italian pride by going all the way in the Netherlands. The senior team was also defeated by Uruguay’s young guns in the Under-20 World Cup decider last weekend.

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