Luis Enrique has a little bit of previous with Italy and not just because he managed AS Roma for a season.

Twenty seven years ago this Friday, Spain met the Azzurri in a 1994 World Cup quarter-final at the New England Patriots' former home stadium in Massachusetts.

The unrelated Baggios, Dino and the Divine Ponytail, would net the two Italian goals in the 2-1 win but the more notorious moment involved the current Spain manager.

Mauro Tassotti, the then-Italy midfielder, who coincidentally has also been coaching at Euro 2020 as Andriy Shevchenko's Ukraine assistant, elbowed Enrique during the course of the match as they jostled in the Italian box as a cross came in, leaving the former Barcelona and Spanish international bloodied and understandably incensed.

Tassotti escaped a red card but not a retrospective eight-match ban that would keep him out of the World Cup final which Italy would famously lose on penalties.

Luis Enrique after that 1994 incident

It came at a time when Italy were a veritable world power while Spain were in the midst of their long underachieving-consistently-at-the-big-stage phase of their history.

Italy had always been on the right side of the result in the rare major tournament head-to-heads with the Spanish, including at Euro 88. And it wasn't until a penalty shootout in the Euro 2008 quarter-final that Spain recorded their first non-friendly win over Italy since the 1920 Olympic Games.

Four years later, Spain thrashed them 4-0 in the Euro 2012 final, before another 3-0 victory in a 2018 World Cup qualifier in September 2017 as the tide of the rivalry turned decisively towards the western part of the Mediterranean.

But as they face each other in the Euro 2020 semi-final at Wembley on Tuesday night - live on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player - it marks the meeting of two nations trying to return to the top table of the continent after a relative slide in fortunes.

Italy didn't even get to the aforementioned 2018 World Cup while Spain have reverted back to their habit of exiting in the earlier stages at the last three major tournaments.

But Enrique, and more evidently Italy boss Roberto Mancini, have given their sides real impetus as they move within one step of the European Championship final.

The Italians have been the most consistently impressive team at Euro 2020, with the only major wobble coming against Austria in the last-16.

Spinazzola after pulling up with an Achilles injury against Belgium

Defensively, they are stronger than Spain, with Leonardo Bonucci and captain Giorgio Chiellini, showing their enduring ability to shackle and outsmart the most threatening of forwards. The full-backs have provided discipline and penetration from the flanks, although the right-footed left-back Leonardo Spinazzola will be a big miss after injuring his Achilles in the 2-1 quarter-final win over world number one Belgium last Friday.

Spain have kept just one clean sheet in their five games to date with their biggest issue at the heart of the defence coming when dealing with crosses and runners into the area from midfield.

That latter element is what makes the upcoming midfield battle hugely fascinating. Both teams match-up in their respective 4-3-3 formations but it's the engine room where both are strongest.

Loosely, you can look across the line of the three centrally and see some vague similarities. Sergio Busquets sits deepest of the Spanish trio and will be directly across from Jorginho, who has been conducting the Italian orchestra as the player who mops up behind his midfield colleagues and keeps the ball moving.

Pedri had impressed Lionel Messi at Barcelona, which is a reasonable endorsement to say the least, and the youngster has been precocious in the Spanish midfield as the most creative of the three in possession. As the nominally left-sided of the midfield three, he will face off against Italy's dynamic box-to-box terrier Nicolo Barella, who netted his first goal of the tournament against the Belgians.

We need your consent to load this comcast-player contentWe use comcast-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

And then on the other side, the script is flipped as Koke, who usually plays deeper when he captains Atletico Madrid has been more box-to-box for Spain in making more in-roads into the opposition box. All he is missing is a goal. But he is directly dueling a player more in the Pedri mould in the shape of Paris Saint-Germain's Marco Verratti who has shown his creativity and tenacity since being promoted in place of the impressive Manuel Locatelli later in the group phase.

The Spanish midfield will have more possession however with their less direct style of play. Even though Italy have generally dominated possession in most of their games with a 55.8% average, which puts them third of the 24 teams, Spain are well ahead of everyone else on 67.2% whilst also being the most accurate passers.

So expect Italy to yield that particular battle and focus on the transition when they have been dangerous as their inside-forwards Lorenzo Insigne on the left and either one of Domenico Berardi or Federico Chiesa on the opposite side have been released to good effect. The fact that they are the most cohesive pressing team in the competition should also allow them to ruffle Spain's attempts to build patterns and a rhythm.

The wide-forwards of both sides will be especially crucial given the doubts about the centre-forwards. Alvaro Morata and Ciro Immobile have both scored twice at the Euros and are excellent strikers on their day.

But outside of Serie A, where both call home, neither possesses the ruthlessness of Europe's elite forwards, although they do contribute off the ball as spearheads.

However, just as Immobile has been less maligned than his counterpart, Italy as a whole feel as if they are a step ahead of Spain both tactically and when it comes to grit and decisiveness at both ends of the pitch.

Their clever - or cynical, depending on your perspective - game-management was evident in the closing stages against Belgium as they ran down the clock to neuter any possibility of a comeback.

Mancini's side are rightfully favourites given that they also seem more invulnerable to implosion than their Spanish opponents. Fewer glaring errors have been made by their back four, goalkeeper or midfield.

Plus there is the fact that Spain have played extra time twice in a row in pulsating wins over Croatia and Switzerland on route to the semi-final while Italy only did so in the last-16.

Much will depend on which Spain turns up as Italy have been consistently good. If it's their worst self, where they mix sluggishness and profligacy with individual mistakes then the Italians will surely capitalise and reach the final.

But if it's the Spain that clicks into gear and the passing carousel is well oiled, then a real classic awaits. Let's hope for the latter.

Watch every game of Euro 2020 live and watch nightly highlights on RTÉ2 or RTÉ Player | 11 June to 11 July