Spain paid the price for a lack of cutting edge as they drew 1-1 with Italy in Thursday’s 2018 World Cup qualifier, despite having dominated for large parts.
Just two changes from the Spain team that demolished Liechtenstein 8-0 last month saw Dani Carvajal replace Sergi Roberto at right-back and Thiago Alcantara make way for Andres Iniesta.
La Roja’s last meeting with the Azzurri came in the Euro 2016 last 16, when they were beaten 2-0 in Vicente del Bosque’s last game at the helm.
Such disappointment seemed to spur on Spain as all, if not most of, the first half was played in Italy’s part of the pitch, the Azzurri forced to camp near their own goal and watch their opponents exhibit fluid and fluent possession football, dented by an early knock to Jordi Alba.
Costa’s duel with Leonardo Bonucci promised much, and the striker was a lucky boy after he escaped punishment for wiping his hand over Leonardo Bonucci’s face, although he eventually saw yellow for an elbow on the defender.
Iniesta, meanwhile, left centurion Daniele De Rossi on his backside when collecting a one-two in Italy’s box, but his curling shot was saved by Gianluigi Buffon.
Costa then had a shot blocked from close range, but David Silva fared better as his attempt was deflected inches wide by De Rossi.
It took Gerard Pique to forge La Roja’s best chance of the opening 45 minutes as the Barcelona defender was unmarked when he headed a cross on target, which Buffon saved on his line.
Pique had a similar headed chance a couple of minutes before, but Iniesta fell to the ground amidst a melee in the Azzurri’s area and couldn’t turn the ball in.
Nonetheless, the second half brought about not only a quicker tempo but also a Spain goal as Vitolo chased a long ball over the top, which Buffon completely misseed, having sprung off his line and outside the area, allowing the winger to score from a tap-in.
Italy responded by introducing Ciro Immobile, and the Lazio striker immediately emerged at far post to meet Giacomo Bonaventura’s left-wing cross, but he could only poke the ball wide.
Spain, on the other hand, replaced Costa just seconds after he risked a second yellow for seemingly kicking the ball away following an offside call.
Back to matters in play, Vitolo was sent through on Buffon’s goal, with the Italy defence in hot pursuit, but he scuffed his finish wide of the far post.
The visitors’ grip on the game was becoming slighter by the second, and it eventually evaporated when De Rossi converted a late penalty after Sergio Ramos had tripped Eder, the defender turned by the Italo-Brazilian in the box.
Pique was quickly booked for obstructing Immobile in the final third, the striker then nutmegging the defender, but no-one could slide home his ball across goal, before the linesman denied an apparent Italian winner being bundled home as fellow substitute Andrea Belotti was offside.
Spain had attempted 534 passes, just under 200 more than Italy, going into stoppage time, but they once more paid the price for a lack of penetration.
Italy 1-1 Spain
De Rossi pen 82 (I) Vitolo 55 (S)
Italy: Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Romagnoli; Florenzi, Parolo (Belotti 76), De Rossi, Montolivo (Bonaventura 30), De Sciglio; Eder, Pelle (Immobile 60)
Spain: De Gea; Carvajal, Ramos, Pique, Alba (Nacho 22); Busquets, Koke, Iniesta; Silva, Costa (Morata 67), Vitolo (Thiago 84)
Referee: Brych (GER)