Euro 2024: Slow-starting defending champ Italy face Switzerland in first knockout match

By AP   June 29, 2024 | 02:59 am PT
Euro 2024: Slow-starting defending champ Italy face Switzerland in first knockout match
Italy's Mattia Zaccagni (number 20) celebrates after a Group B match between Croatia and Italy at the Euro 2024 football tournament in Leipzig, Germany, June 24, 2024. Photo by Reuters
Defending champion Italy aim to continue their dominance over Switzerland to reach the quarterfinals of the European Championship on Saturday.

Switzerland have not beaten Italy for 31 years and have only eight wins from their previous 61 meetings. But the Swiss are unbeaten this year and their only loss in 2023 came in the last game of qualifying. Kickoff is at 6 p.m. local (1600 GMT) on Saturday. Here’s what to know about the match:

Match facts

Italy has fond memories of playing at Berlin’s Olympiastadion after beating France on penalties in the 2006 World Cup final in its last game in the stadium, where it also defeated Austria 2-1 in the final of the 1936 Olympic Games.

So far, Euro 2024 has been a difficult experience for the Azzuri, conceding after just 23 seconds in their opening 2-1 win over Albania, then being thoroughly outclassed in a 1-0 defeat to Spain, before it needed a last-second strike from Italy substitute Mattia Zaccagni to salvage a 1-1 draw against Croatia to finish runner-up in Group B.

Switzerland opened with a 3-1 win over Hungary before 1-1 draws against Scotland and host nation Germany.

Switzerland and Italy faced each other in qualifying for the 2022 World Cup. They drew both games and the Swiss finished top of the group to qualify. Italy lost to North Macedonia in the playoffs and missed out. It was the Italians’ second successive failure to qualify for the World Cup.

Switzerland players Yann Sommer, Ricardo Rodríguez, Remo Freuler, Noah Okafor, Michel Aebischer, Dan Ndoye, Dennis Zakaria, Silvan Widmer and Xherdan Shaqiri have all played in Italy’s Serie A.

In contrast, defender Federico Dimarco is the only member of Italy’s squad to have played in Switzerland, spending one season at Sion in 2017-18.

The winner will face England or Slovakia in the quarterfinals in Düsseldorf on July 6.

Team news

Italy defender Riccardo Calafiori is suspended, left back Federico Dimarco is out with an injury, and fellow defender Alessandro Bastoni's availability is in question. "Bastoni needs to be assessed tomorrow because he did a portion of the training session today ... but then he had a bit of a setback. So, he’s had a few degrees of fever. But then we tried to let him rest up, and he had his first training session there, and he’s already a lot better. But we need to see overnight how he responds," Italy coach Luciano Spalletti said on Friday. Spalletti added Gianluca Mancini will replace the suspended Calafiori "because he’s got the right amount of experience."

Defender Silvan Widmer is suspended for Switzerland and a number of players, including Granit Xhaka, are in danger of missing the next match if booked.

By the numbers

Switzerland failed to progress beyond the group stage in their first three European Championship appearances, but they have since reached the knockout stage in each of it last three tournaments.

Italy have scored in each of its previous six matches at the Olympiastadion.

Switzerland have won only one of its four penalty shootouts at a World Cup or Euros, while Italy became the first team to win more than one at the same European Championship in the last edition. Italy defeated 3-2 England on penalties to win the 2021 Euros.

What they’re saying

"We know that we’re up against very awkward customers in the shape of Switzerland. The results bear witness to that. So far in Euro 2024, there have been teams where no one gave them the chance to actually make it through to the knockout stage, whereas they have then made it through to the round of 16, and deservedly so," said Italy coach Luciano Spalletti.

"No team is happy to play against Italy because we have a footballing history. We are reigning champions and it is never easy to play against us," said Italy winger Stephan El Shaarawy.

"We’ve done our homework. We haven’t just looked at these last three games, we’ve also studied Italy’s previous matches before the tournament. But we’ve always been struck by how Italy can mix things up in terms of personnel and shape. We’re ready for Italy’s alternatives. We’re familiar with Italy," said Switzerland coach Murat Yakin.

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