Hitherto-unbeaten Spain suffered their first and now only defeat in the FIFA Under 20 World Cup in Egypt as Italy booked their quarter-final place with a hard-fought 3-1 win over their ten-man antagonists, who missed a penalty late on.
Mattia Mustacchio put in a match-winning performance for the Italians, while Aaron Niguez, having scored early in the second half, spurned that late spot-kick.
Although Spain threatened early on through Jordi Alba, the best chance of the opening stages fell to Catania's Fabio Sciacca, who cut in nicely from the left before drilling a shot just past Sergio Asenjo's post.
There were signs that the game was growing bad-tempered as Oriol Romeu picked up a yellow card for a foul on Marco Calderoni, but few anticipated what was to come in the 28th minute. Barcelona youth Alberto Botia went in hard and late on Andrea Mazzarani and was shown a straight red from referee Hector Baldassi.
Mazzarani then spurned a one-on-one as the half drew to a close, and Spain had held out.
Shortly after the break Dani Parejo and Aaron Niguez combined well for a near-miss, but on the 54 minute mark Italy took the lead, Mustacchio seizing on a long ball before burying his first of the campaign.
Aaron then hit the crossbar with a speculative effort before his miss was punished yet again. Oriol and Azpilicueta were caught napping as Mazzarani nipped in to make it 2-0.
Spain were thrown a lifeline as Ander Herrera's cross was handled in the box by Michelangelo Albertazzi, Aaron Niguez stepping up to convert the penalty.
On came Kike Sola for Fran Merida as Spain looked to up the tempo, Alessandro Crescenzi making way for Matteo Bruscagin on the other side.
Antonio Mazzotta struck the post shortly afterwards, before Asenjo pulled off a fantastic save from a one-on-one from the Palermo man.
But just when it seemed that Italy were pushing Spain to their breaking point, the Furia Roja were awarded yet another penalty as Aaron was fouled on the edge of the area by Milan man and substitute Bruscagin, who escaped a second booking.
Up stepped Aaron for what should have been a routine second penalty of the afternoon, but the Valencia midfielder fired it to the right of the post.
Having avoided that scare, the Azzurrini killed the tie off with their third
Italy will face the winners of October 6th's Hungary-Czech Republic clash in the quarter-final on October 9th in Suez, the last game of the tournament to take place outside Cairo.
Steve Michaels, Goal.com