Despite having packed trophy cabinets, Italy’s two veteran defenders are still out to prove they can compete at the highest level.
Giorgio Chiellini, who turns 37 next month, and 34-year-old Leonardo Bonucci are the backbone of a rock-solid Italy defence at this year’s European Championship.
Their next assignment will be to stop Spain on Tuesday in the semifinals at Wembley Stadium.
“It’s been a number of years now that it’s been said that they’re the best center back pairing in world football,” Italy coach Roberto Mancini said Monday.
“Their strength is that they want to prove that that is still the case match in, match out and I think that’s very important for a player, to prove that they are the best in their position with every game that passes.”
Chiellini and Bonucci have been at the heart of the defense for Italy’s national team and Juventus for much of the past 11 years. They, along with the now retired Andrea Barzagli, formed the famed BBC trio.
Together they helped Juventus win eight Serie A titles and four Italian Cup trophies. They have each played more than 100 matches for their country.
“Clearly when we are playing alongside one another we know each other’s game inside out and so things come very naturally to us,” Bonucci said.
“So naturally you don’t have to necessarily think about all the other things you have to when you play with someone other than Giorgio, it all comes very naturally.
“We can share the workload and help the team out and we can also both be leaders. That’s absolutely crucial and it allows both myself and Giorgio to really give 100% game in, game out.”
Chiellini missed Italy’s final group match against Wales and the victory over Austria in the round of 16 with an injury but returned for the 2-1 win over Belgium in the quarterfinals.
Against the Belgians, he blocked a powerful shot from Kevin De Bruyne with his face and immediately grinned — prompting a wide smile back from the opposing forward.
Chiellini and Bonucci helped Italy control Belgium’s attack, with Romelu Lukaku scoring the lone goal from the penalty spot. That was only the second goal Italy has conceded all tournament.
The Azzurri will next face a Spain team which is the leading scorer at Euro 2020. And the defensive duo will come up against a striker they know well, Juventus teammate Álvaro Morata.
“When you get to this level, when you get to this stage of the competition, all of the countries you come up against and all of the strikers you face are terrific,” Bonucci said.
“Álvaro has some very specific qualities, they’re different attributes to what Lukaku is all about, but we need to be very switched on in terms of fine margins and small details to make sure that we really can come away with a big result.”