Euro 2020

Chiesa and Pessina score as the Azzurri dig deep to beat Austria at Wembley

The two substitutes decide the game as Mancini's men progress to the quarter-finals

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Chiesa and Pessina score as the Azzurri dig deep to beat Austria at Wembley

From the Olimpico to Wembley, Roberto Mancini’s boys keep finding a way to win. It went to extra time tonight against Austria before Chiesa and Pessina scored the decisive goals in an extremely hard-fought match as the Azzurri booked their ticket to a quarter-final clash in Munich. The hope will be that it isn’t just a one-way trip and that the Azzurri can return to the UK capital for the semi-final. To get back to Wembley, Italy will need to beat either Belgium or Portugal on 2 July - either the number 1 ranked team in the world or the reigning European champions.

But in the meantime, Italy can enjoy another evening of celebrations. Austria represented a step up in opposition and the Azzurri had to be patient; Arnautovic’s disallowed goal, which was chalked off for offside following a VAR check, had Italy hearts in mouths. However, the boys did excellently to come through a difficult second half and get the win in extra time, thanks to two youngsters in Chiesa and Pessina. The final ten minutes were truly tense as Austria grabbed a goal back but Italy held on for their 31st game without defeat, beating the record set by Vittorio Pozzo’s side. They also surpassed Ferruccio Valcareggi’s team, who, between 1972 and 1974, went twelve matches without conceding a single goal.

THE GAME. After plenty of squad rotation against Wales, Mancini brought nine of the players who started against Switzerland back to the starting line-up. The Berardi-Immobile-Insigne attacking trident returned and Di Lorenzo was back in at right-back. The two additions to the side, with respect to the team that started on matchday 2 against the Swiss, were Acerbi in the heart of defence and Verratti in midfield. The PSG midfielder showed against Wales last Sunday that he had fully recovered from injury and was preferred to Locatelli alongside Jorginho at the base of midfield.

Austria, who tend to change their system depending on whom they are playing, lined up in a rigid 4-4-1-1 formation, with Alaba at left-back to support the young Baumgartner and Sabitzer in behind Arnautovic. Meanwhile, Laimer and Lainer were deployed down the right. Franco Foda’s side pressed high and with aggression, and, from the off, showed off their dynamism and physicality. Die Burschen tried to build up from the back, in spite of Italy’s near-constant pressure. The game was significantly more intense than any Italy had been involved in during the group stage and was played at a breakneck tempo. Leonardo Spinazzola continued his impressive form and was a constant threat down the left-hand side. After Insigne’s effort on the turn, which was blocked smartly by Bachmann, the Roma full-back set up Barella to shoot, but the midfielder’s effort was saved by the Austria goalkeeper (17’). Austria responded with a swift counterattack and Arnautovic, who was played in by Sabitzer, sent his effort over the crossbar. Ciro Immobile went close in the 32nd minute, hitting the post from some way out. Italy were well in the match; Spinazzola had another go but again Bachmann got down to make the save. It was 0-0 at half time.

The second half would be even more complicated for Italy, and this was immediately apparent when Arnautovic had an early opportunity following a mistake by Bonucci. Thankfully, he scuffed his finish. A minute later, there was another scare for Mancini’s men, who watched as Alaba fired a free kick narrowly over the bar. The same Austrian player then intervened in his own box, getting to the ball before Berardi after a good move involving Verratti and Insigne. The feeling was that a key episode could have a big bearing on the game. A Sabitzer shot that was deflected behind by Bonucci was the prelude to an Austrian goal that was chalked off. Indeed, Alaba knocked down Lainer’s cross and Arnautovic put the ball into the net, with celebrations with the Austrian fans then following. After a VAR review, English referee Taylor disallowed it for offside and Italy were able to breathe a big sigh of relief.

Mancini shook things up in midfield, bringing on Locatelli and Pessina for Verratti and Barella. In the 72nd minute, Locatelli shot wide with his right foot, while Insigne failed to convert with a lob shortly afterwards. The next opportunity came the way of Berardi, who attempted an acrobatic scissor-kick volley from Spinazzola’s cross to no avail. Two further Azzurri substitutions were made with 84 minutes on the clock: Berardi and Immobile were replaced by Chiesa and Belotti. Italy went on the attack, but Austria continued to defend well. After five minutes of added time, the game went to extra time.

With the match having resumed, Chiesa provided the first spark after being picked out by Belotti. Bachmann, however, was able to smother. But the Austrian goalkeeper wasn’t able to do anything in the 95th minute, when the Azzurri No.14 finally broke the deadlock. After latching onto Spinazzola’s cross towards the far post, Chiesa controlled the ball, took it away from Laimer with an excellent touch and fired home. The Juventus striker celebrated together with the Italian fans at Wembley and the millions of supporters following the National Team on television. Gianluca Vialli, meanwhile, ran to embrace Mancini. The goal provided Italy with a big confidence boost, with Insigne striking a superb free kick and forcing Bachmann into an excellent save. Then, on the stroke of half-time in extra time, Acerbi managed to find Pessina, who, with his left foot, bagged his second goal at this European Championship.

It wasn’t over, however. Donnarumma produced a great stop to keep out a shot from Gregoritsch, while, at the other end, Belotti wasted a chance to make it 3-0 on the counter. Sabitzer had the next chance of the game, but he snatched at his effort and fired off target from a great position. Five minutes from time, Kalajdzic reduced the arrears, beating Locatelli to the ball and scoring with a diving header. After more than 1160 minutes without conceding, the Italian defence had been breached. Chiesa then had two opportunities to put the game to bed once and for all, but Italy were required to dig in until the very end. And that they did, thus securing their place in the quarter-finals. The Azzurri’s next fixture will be in Munich, with the aim being to return to Wembley. The journey continues.



26 June 2021