Spanish substitute David Villa scored a spectacular late goal to clinch a home victory against World Champions Italy at the Martinez Valero Stadium on Wednesday night. The Valencia striker came on at half time, replacing Fernando Torres, before capitalizing on a poor clearing header from Fabio Cannavaro, blasting a perfectly left-footed volley past Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and into the very top corner of the net.
The win cements Spain’s place as one of the favourites for this summer’s European Championships, and extended their unbeaten run to 14 matches, their last loss coming more than 16 months ago. The Azzurri started well, and looked as though they had taken the lead in the 13th minute when Luca Toni headed Andrea Pirlo’s cross into the back of the net. However it was disallowed by the referee, after picking up on a Cannavaro foul in the build-up.
Spain’s luck turned on them, a substitution forced in the first half when RaÃºl Albiol had to replace the injured Carlos Puyol, who was badly struck on his ankle. The hosts continued to put pressure on the Italian defence, however struggled to break it up, only mustering hopeful, long range shots before Buffon was forced to save a close-range effort from Torres in the 36th minute. Buffon was again forced into action near half time, producing a outstanding saveto keep out a well-hit, long-range strike from Cesc Fabregas.
Azzurri manager Roberto Donadoni saw fit to effect change in the side, making three subs at the break. Genoa striker Marco Boriello entered in place of Luca Toni, whilst Andrea Barzagli and Gennaro Gattuso replaced Marco Materazzi and Andrea Pirlo repectively.
The changes reignited some fire in the Italians, looking the more likely side to score straight after the break, and they were unlucky not to take the lead in the 50th minute when Mauro Camoranesi connected brilliantly with a Fabio Grosso cross, only for his shot to rattle the crossbar.
Christian Panucci sent a header wide off a Daniele De Rossi free-kick, before Buffon blocked another powerful shot by Fabregas at the other end. Spain’s persistence finally reaped some rewards in the 78th minute, when Buffon was unable to reach a crisply struck David Villa volley from just inside the area. Villa had a chance to put the hosts further in front only minutes later when he connected with a penetrating Xabi Alonso cross, only for Buffon to clear his effort.
Italy searched for the equaliser to no avail, giving the Spaniards added hope ahead of Euro 2008.
Spain: Casillas, Sergio Ramos (Arbeloa 75′), Puyol (RaÃºl Albiol 17′), Marchena, Capdevila, Marcos Senna (Xabi Alonso 58′), Iniesta, Xavi, Fabregas, David Silva (Riera 58′), Fernando Torres (David Villa 46′)
Goals: David Villa 78′
Italy: Buffon, Panucci, Cannavaro, Materazzi (Barzagli 46′), Grosso, Perrotta (Aquilani 61′), Pirlo (Gattuso 46′), De Rossi, Camoranesi, Toni (Boriello 46′), Di Natale (Iaquinta 75′)
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