There is something about these two sides that draws you in. Finalists at Euro 2012, the last two world champions, they have been brought together often in recent years, from the European Championship to the World Cup and the Confederations Cup, and the matches have invariably been seen here almost as a moral battle: a clash of cultures and styles.
Yet this game was a friendly and both sides knew it. Five half-time changes between them seemed to tell the story, except that one of them was David Silva, the man who changed this game.
The City midfielder combined with Andrés Iniesta to create the only goal for Pedro as the world champions won 1-0. He had been on the pitch less that 20 minutes, but the chances had starting racking up and he was at the middle of them all. On 62 minutes he dashed through the middle, found Iniesta and kept running, heading for the heart of the Italian defence. Iniesta returned the ball with a clever backheel and although Gabriel Paletta was across quickly, the ball broke for Pedro to score.
Not full, the atmosphere at the Calderón was different to the last game played here, the Madrid derby three days earlier. The Italy coach was without Daniele De Rossi and Mario Balotelli while the ideologues did not start: Xabi Alonso, Xavi and Andrea Pirlo were substitutes. In any case Cesare Prandelli had admitted he did not want to play at all; the potential damage it could do Italy was too great and nor did he wish to give anything away before the World Cup.
If the good news was that he had revealed little and that there was no heavy defeat to damage them, nor can he have overly enjoyed what he saw. Italy were largely able to get hold of the ball and although Spain's possession rarely produced clear chances in the first half, the introduction of Silva caused problems, defenders constantly dragged out of position, space opening up. The left side was especially vulnerable. These were not familiar teams but Spain have a recognisable identity that Italy do not yet. Prandelli has sought to mould a new style but it remains a work in progress.
There was a first outing for Diego Costa, who made his international debut against Italy – for the second time – but for the Brazil-born Costa, as for others before him, it proved difficult to find the space that Spain's style sometimes denies the strikers. In the opening half an hour, Italy struggled to keep the ball, with Spain pressuring high and hard, yet chances were few and it was Dani who had perhaps the best opportunity on the break, cutting neatly across the face of the area only to curl his shot just wide.
Twice Spain created openings, both from the right. The first was a long run by César Azpilicueta, who pulled back for Cesc Fábregas to shoot over. Then, towards the end of the half, Domenico Criscito tried to bring Pedro down but he accelerated away before cleverly turning inside just before he ran out of pitch. The cross, though, was overhit.
At half-time Italy made two changes while Spain made three: Alonso for Busquets, Silva for Fábregas, and Victor Valdés for Iker Casillas. Silva, quickly and constantly involved, created the first opportunity with a wonderful piece of skill to find Thiago. Moments later, he himself missed the target from just inside the area. Soon after, he laid the ball off for Pedro to hit over. Then he and Pedro combined to pull the ball back to Costa near the the six yard box, but the striker was snuffed out. Silva then hit wide from 18 yards. Next time he set off, the goal did come.