Wembley, see you again soon! Italy beat Belgium to seal a semi-final spotA 2-1 victory over the Red Devils thanks to goals from Barella and Insigne. A showdown against Spain now awaits on Tuesday
Friday, July 2, 2021
We’re going back to Wembley! Italy were brilliant, brave and are deservedly through to the semi-finals following a 2-1 win over Belgium. The boys have, once again, delighted an entire nation and enjoyed a ‘Notte Magica’ at this European Championship - this time, under clear Munich sky. The Azzurri dominated against the team that has topped the world ranking for the past three years, going 2-0 up thanks to splendid individual efforts from Barella and Insigne. Then, it was over to the backline, who kept the Belgians at bay in the second half, after Romelu Lukaku had got the Red Devils back into it from the spot in injury time before the break.
It was a spectacular Italy performance as the Azzurri demonstrated an ability to grind out a result, winning an action-packed football match. It was only ever going to be an emotional night as both sides went into it with matching records: ten wins from ten in qualifying, three from three in the group stage. Italy and Belgium met at Munich’s famous Arena as equals, both capable of going through. As Mancini said in his press conference yesterday, it would be the team that made fewest mistakes that would progress to the semi-finals. And it was Italy who came away on a high following their 32nd game without defeat. The march to potential glory continues on Tuesday as the Azzurri head back to London to take on Spain, who triumphed on penalties against Switzerland earlier this evening.
THE GAME. Mancini made two changes from the Austria match. Chiellini returned in defence alongside Bonucci - the partnership that kept Lukaku quiet in Lyon at EURO 2016. The super-sub from the round of 16, Federico Chiesa, got his chance to start, lining up in an attacking trident with Insigne and Lukaku. The great unknown surrounding Belgium yesterday was the availability of Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard, who came off injured against Portugal. The Manchester City midfielder started, while 19-year-old Jérémy Doku started in place of Hazard.
Belgium started strongly and Lukaku, fed by De Bruyne, had the first chance of the game after just 55 seconds; Donnarumma came out to shut the move down. The stats pre-match showed that the Azzurri had been more attack-minded in the first four matches, and in Munich, too, the Red Devils looked to sit back and hurt Italy on the break. The Azzurri dictated the game and looked to have taken the lead in the 13th minute: Insigne swung in a free-kick, Di Lorenzo got a touch and Bonucci turned it home. However, a VAR checked showed that the centre-back was in an offside position. It remained 0-0.
The two teams were fighting hard and not giving an inch, with both Verratti and Tielemans entering the referee’s notebook. De Bruyne then suddenly sprang to life and, after charging up the pitch with the ball at his feet, let fly with a left-footed strike that Donnarumma expertly saved. Shortly afterwards, the Italy shot-stopper managed to keep out a low menacing effort from Lukaku. It was certainly a lively affair, with Chiesa also looking threatening out wide. It seemed like a goal was in the air, and one did duly arrive on the half-hour mark following a wonderful piece of play from Nicolò Barella, who powerfully fired past Courtois after showing some quick feet in the area. It was the Inter midfielder’s sixth Italy goal and, without doubt, his most important one to date.
Having taken the lead, the Azzurri dropped back slightly but continued to play their football. In the 40th minute, Chiesa narrowly missed the target from the edge of the area, while Immobile had a shot charged down from a good position shortly afterwards. Nevertheless, Italy netted a second in the 44th minute, when Lorenzo Insigne majestically curled the ball past Courtois after getting the better of Tielemans. Belgium seemed to be on the ropes, but they were given a lifeline on the stroke of half-time as Di Lorenzo was penalised for nudging Doku in the box. The contact was there, VAR didn’t intervene and Lukaku reduced the arrears from twelve yards out.
The Azzurri, who are happiest when in possession, were never just going to focus on defending after the restart. But they also needed to pick their moments, especially when they knew they could count on the speed of Spinazzola and Chiesa. In the 52nd minute, the Juventus winger picked out Immobile, who was unable to find to the net. Speaking of pace, Doku showed why Martinez had named him in Belgium’s starting eleven instead of Carrasco. The Rennes attacker constantly turned on the afterburners, with Di Lorenzo struggling to contain him. With an hour played, there was a coming together between De Bruyne and Jorginho in the box, but the referee wasn’t interested. A big chance came the Red Devils’ way with 62 minutes on the clock: Doku found De Bruyne, who rolled the ball across to Lukaku, but the striker was denied by a decisive Spinazzola intervention. It was as good as a goal, something which the Roma man almost scored at the other end following Insigne’s lovely floated ball over the top. The latter then tested Courtois with another curling right-footed effort. Belgium needed to shake things up, and Martinez brought on Mertens and Chadli, who, shortly afterwards, sent in a cross that Lukaku missed by a matter of inches. Chadli remained on the pitch for just a few minutes, with a muscular problem resulting in him being replaced by Praet.
Italy had also spent a lot of energy, and fresh legs were needed. Mancini brought off Verratti and Immobile, whose places were taken by Cristante and Belotti. Spinazzola then unfortunately picked up an injury, with the full-back leaving the pitch in tears and being replaced by Emerson. Berardi also came on for Insigne. Italy needed to dig deep because Belgium had nothing to lose and were throwing everything at it. Doku got involved once more, skipping past a few tackles and firing over. Seven minutes of stoppage time seemed like an eternity, but Italy defended with heart and earned themselves a spot in the semis. On Tuesday, Mancini’s men will face Spain at Wembley. A place in the final is at stake.