If England do book a place in a first European Championship final on Wednesday night, they can take comfort in knowing their opponents played out 120 minutes of pulsating, end-to-end drama in one of the best games since the national stadium’s rebuild.
Roberto Mancini’s side were outplayed by Spain for long periods but rode their luck and displayed old-school Italian qualities of grit and defensive nous to book a place in the final.
If they were in any doubt before, Gareth Southgate’s side will know they will face a team of the highest quality, should they succeed in beating Denmark.
For Spain, defeat on spot-kicks was cruel, particularly for Alvaro Morata, who missed the decisive penalty, having come off the bench to equalise in a moment that felt like redemption.
Orchestrated by boy-wonder Pedri, Spain put in their best performance of the finals with a slick show of controlled passing and pressing which wore down the Italians after Federico Chiesa opened the scoring on the hour.
Luis Enrique’s side deservedly equalised when substitute Morata stroked home from close range ten minutes from time, offering a strong response to his critics – including Enrique, who dropped the striker from the start.
Until Morata’s introduction in response to Italy’s goal, the story of Spain’s night looked set to be the glaring absence of a cutting edge, with chance after chance squandered until it felt inevitable they would somehow pay.
Enrique’s decision to play Mikel Oyarzabal through the middle had given Italy something different to think about, denying Georgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci the physical battle they would have surely relished with their Juventus teammate Morata but they had no bite.
Italy, by contrast, were equally exhilarating in their own way, settling into a rhythm of stinging Spain with a series of lightning counter-attacks.
Their goal came from one of the quickest breaks of the night, which started with goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma and ended with a superb finish from Chiesa seconds later.
Mancini’s side have offered a new face of Italian football at the finals, with a more open, attacking and flexible approach than previous Azzurri sides.
But this was a display based more on spirit, fight and nerve, which they held during spot-kicks in front of their fans, despite Manuel Locatelli missing the opening penalty.
Dani Olmo immediately blazed over the bar for Spain and Morata saw his effort saved at 3-2 to leave Jorginho to send Italy into the final with a winning penalty dispatched with his trademark skip.
Unlike England, neither of these sides were especially fancied before the tournament but Italy are continuing a remarkable run under Mancini and will go into Sunday’s game knowing they can win without being the better side.
You also wondered if home advantage would really prove such a decisive factor should England reach the final.
Italy were roared on by the majority of the 60,000 supporters behind the goal where the shootout took place and it often felt and sounded like a home game for the Azzurri. They will hope for the same again on Sunday, whoever their opponent.