Conte’s charges proved tactically superior to their rivals and ended a run of five winless matches against Spain as veteran defender Giorgio Chiellini’s goal shortly after the half hour mark was added to by striker Graziano Pelle in injury time.
Victory was Italy’s first competitive win over La Roja since the 1994 World Cup and avenged their 4-0 thrashing in the final of Euro 2012, setting up a tantalising clash with Germany in Bordeaux for a place in the tournament’s last four.
“I knew it, I knew my guys have something great inside them, something extraordinary. Today we showed everyone that Italy are not just ‘Catenaccio’ [a tactical system based heavily on defence],” said incoming Chelsea manager Conte.
“It’s not the best era for Italian football so we can’t rely on great players. I’ve had to battle to make people realise this. Spanish football is in rude health so we should be extra proud of beating them.
“We now face the best side at the European Championship. For me, Germany are on a higher level to everybody. We’re going to need something super-extraordinary for that game, not just extraordinary.”
Had it not been for Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea, Spain would have lost by a far greater margin, although the 25-year-old was beaten on 33 minutes as Chiellini bundled home after Eder’s free-kick had been parried.
Southampton forward Pelle sealed Italy’s win in stoppage time as he superbly volleyed beyond De Gea after a cross from Manchester United full-back Matteo Darmian deflected invitingly into his path.