Italy's Alessandro Bastoni celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal...

Italy's Alessandro Bastoni celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal during a Group B match between Italy and Albania at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Dortmund, Germany, Saturday, June 15, 2024. Credit: AP/Bernd Thissen

DUSSELDORF, Germany — Defending champion Italy plays Spain on Thursday in one of the most anticipated games at Euro 2024. Spain leads Group B ahead of Italy on goal difference after both teams won their opening games. Croatia and Albania are the other teams in the group. Kickoff is at 9 p.m. local (1900 GMT) in Gelsenkirchen. Here’s what to know about the match:

Match facts

— Italy survived a scare against Albania when Nedim Bajrami scored after 23 seconds - the fastest goal in Euros history. A 2-1 come from behind win avoided embarrassment for Luciano Spalletti’s team.

— There were no such concerns for Spain after a dominant 3-0 win against World Cup semifinalist Croatia.

— Italy beat Spain on penalties in the semifinals of the last Euros after a 1-1 draw through extra time at Wembley Stadium. The team, then coached by Roberto Mancini, also needed penalties to beat England in the final.

— Build up to the last game in Gelsenkirchen - Serbia vs. England - had been overshadowed by concerns about fan violence. Eight people were temporarily detained following a brawl between fans. There has been less focus on potential security issues ahead of this game.

Team news

Spain's Dani Carvajal, left, celebrates with Spain's Lamine Yamal after...

Spain's Dani Carvajal, left, celebrates with Spain's Lamine Yamal after scoring his side's third goal during a Group B match between Spain and Croatia at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, June 15, 2024. Credit: AP/Petr Josek

— Spain defender Aymeric Laporte has resumed training following a muscular issue, leaving coach Luis de la Fuente to declare a fully fit squad for the game.

— Italian media has speculated about Spalletti making changes ahead of the Spain game and the potential for Gianluca Mancini and Bryan Cristante to be brought into his starting line up.

By the numbers

— This is this the fifth Euros in a row that Spain and Italy have met, with two wins each going into Thursday’s match.

— With 46% of possession against Croatia, Spain failed to dominate the ball for the first time in 136 competitive games.

— Italy is going for a record-equalling third European Championship title. Spain and Germany have also won three titles. Italy could also become only the second team to win back-to-back Euros after Spain in 2008 and 2012.

— At 16 years, 338 days, Spain's Lamine Yamal became the youngest player to appear at a European Championship in his team's 3-0 win over Croatia.

What they’re saying

“Spain vs Italy is a classic game, it could very easily be the final. They (Italy) have great players, a great coach, and a real football culture. They’re one of the great national teams.” — Spain coach Luis de la Fuente.

"It’s one of the most important matches of my career; I’ve already been through some important games but this is right up there. This is one of those matches that could give the players a tale to tell in the future.” — Italy coach Luciano Spalletti.

“Right now Spain, are better than us in terms of individual players. We will have to bring the Italian spirit into play; we will need to struggle together.” — Italy midfielder Davide Frattesi.

“I remember a friendly against Portugal before the last Euro and there was a part of the fanbase who weren’t happy and whistled us.... Now we, the media and the fans all share a lot of pride and ambition in what we’re doing. We’re all rowing in the same direction.” — Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon.

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