Belgium v Italy - Match Analysis

After the match earlier today between Republic of Ireland and Sweden ending in a draw, both teams considered the stronger two in Group E will be looking to capitalise and gain a stronghold on each other. This game holds the key to topping the group most believe, gaining all three points from this, as well as facing weaker opponents after this match up is make or break.

Belgium talisman Eden Hazard limped out of training earlier this week much to the delight of the Azzurri faithful but rejoins the starting eleven amongst one of the youngest teams in the tournament, a nod to the depth of talent within the squad. Though, the Italians will be looking past the tricks and skills of the "Golden Generation" Red Devils, fielding champions league and world cup winners alike. With their only competitive loss to the Belgians dating back to 1972 Courtois and Co have it all to prove.

A thought just before kick off is that of Conte, first competitive game in charge since the managerial role agreed at Chelsea FC, opting for a 3-5-2 formation against a threatening front three of Hazard, Lukaku and De Bruyne.

There was no evidence of the game plan of old Italian teams, whilst determination and organisation had remained, fast paced passing and intuitive movement allowed both wing backs of Matteo Darmian and Antonio Candreva to push forward and create problems for the Belgian back four. Little to show for it though, as the central pairing of Alderweireld and Vermaelen dealt with the growing Azzurri pressure.

For the majority of the first half the devils struggled to pick at the Juventus back three, whilst talent was evident the chemistry was sparse. But as it dragged towards half time, the battle for midfield began, with Witsel and Nainggolan facing up to De Rossi and Parolo, much to dislike of Conte's contingency, but need not worry as the effort was evident in flashes.

Quite simply the assist of the tournament, on the fourth day of the Euros. Not many would shy away from making that point either, as Bonucci unleashed a magical pass to Giaccherini, with the Sunderland player controlling perfectly, still with a lot of work to do, slotting calmly passed Courtois. Belgium looked to have crumbled here, with a clear lack of chemistry among the ranks as Pelle watched his free header go wide of the post, Conte in arms knowing they could live to regret the miss later on.

Raphael Honigstein (German Journalist) reported that a Belgian colleague had seen Marc Wilmots team practice against a back three only once, playing his starting eleven who lost 4-0. Food for thought.

Whilst it carried on for the first ten minutes much like the first half, with little team cohesion stifling Belgium's attacking threat, the game persisted to open up as both fought, Italy for goals breathing space, and the devils a lifeline. Hazard tried as he liked, perseverance was not in doubt for Wilmots team but it was not to be, much to the appraisal of Italy's defense.

The substitution of Lukaku represented the team as a whole, the spearhead of attack who couldn't produce on the night. But.. Origi and Mertens added something they were looking for from the kick off. Pace and direct running, what we expected from Lukaku and Hazard but failed to deliver upon, and whilst Italy lapsed, struggling with disciplinary in the latter stages, it was hard to deny they were good money for the win.

Grazianno Pelles last gasp goal summarised the desire and heart Conte's men played with, not necessarily happy with the quality of the squad but the effort and organisation was second to none. A fantastic counter attack and clean strike represented the difference between the two sides.

By far the most entertaining game of the tournament so far, and Italy showed their worth when most thought they were far gone.


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