The Azzuri go marching on as Belgium bow out

Belgium’s golden generation bowed out of the Euros after their in a 2-1 defeat to Italy at the Allianz Arena. This game was described by most as one of the games of the tournament in terms of the football on display. Nicolo Barella put the Azzuri in front before Lorenzo Insigne’s piece of magic put Italy in a very commanding position. Belgium did reply through a Romelu Lukaku penalty, but Italy held on yet again to book themselves a spot in the semi-finals. Mancini’s men will now face Spain for a place in the final.

First half: Belgium make fast start

Both sides came into this encounter in impeccable form. Italy, who on paper have been the best team in the tournament, came up against Belgium, who are the world’s top-ranked team. The game began in a frantic manner with emotions running high.

Belgium began the game better and maestro Kevin De Bruyne saw plenty of the ball in the opening exchanges. The Azzuri on the other hand began the game much slower and were wasteful in possession. Despite this, when Italy were in possession they did attack in numbers. Whereas, Belgium had a much more cautious approach and were the counter attacking side. Belgium’s top scorer at Euro 2020, Romelu Lukaku, was the target for most of Belgium’s attacks. Although as the game went on De Bruyne and youngster Doku began to move much closer to Belgium’s number nine. The Azzuri, who saw most of the ball in the first half, thought they made the breakthrough when Leonardo Bonucci put the ball in the back of the net. The Italian celebrations came to a halt, as VAR adjudged the goal to be offside.

Italy strike twice

Roberto Martinez’s men knew they had to respond to the waves of Italian attacks. Lukaku and De Bruyne called Donnarumma into action and the keeper replied with two smart saves. But, it was Italy who took the lead through Barella. Belgium made a mess of things at the back and Marco Verratti found Barella in acres of space, who put the Azzuri 1-0 up. Barella showed great composure and trickery to wriggle past three defenders and find the back of the net with ease. Clearly, Belgium did not learn from the warning signs moments early, as Insigne’s shot flew just wide of Courtois’ goal and this opportunity came from Belgium’s individual mistakes.

Insigne then got in on the action with a sensational, curling strike, which may just be goal of the tournament. The 30-year-old ran from the halfway line before cutting in and unleashing a thunderbolt into the roof of the net. Belgium now had it all to do. But, their task was made easier by Di Lorenzo’s needless challenge on Doku in the box. The teenager was brought down by the Italy defender and Belgium were given a lifeline. Inter Milan striker striker Romelu Lukaku calmly put the penalty away and Belgium were back in the game.

Second half: Belgium wasteful in front of goal

Belgium, chasing the all-important equaliser, took the game to Italy in the second half. However, Italy were content with their lead and therefore sat deeper. Although, Mancini’s men were much more defensive they still had their chances.

Chances fell to Spinazzola, Federico Chiesa and Insigne, who all came close to putting the contest to bed. Youngster Chiesa came in for Berardi and put in yet another exceptional shift on the right flank. The Juventus attacker came close to scoring in consecutive games but keeper Courtois stood in the way of the 23-year-old. Napoli forward Insigne thought he got his second of the night, but his effort went narrowly wide. Insigne was a threat throughout and has been amongst the standout players at the European Championships. Likewise, Spinazzola has had a tremendous tournament and came close to restoring Italy’s two goal lead. The defender went down in the second half and his tournament now looks like it may be over.

Belgium could not take their chances and were wasteful in front of goal. The best chance fell to the man in red hot form- Romelu Lukaku. De Bruyne broke through the Italian midfield and put the ball on a plate for the 28-year-old striker. From yards out Belgium thought they had their equalizer. Somehow Lukaku did not find the back of the net. A lack of power allowed for the Italian defenders to recover and Italy were still ahead. Chiellini lead the Italian celebrations, as they knew it was crucial to not concede at this point in the game. Lukaku was inches away again from finding the back of the net, when Chadli’s cross flew just over him. The final whistle went and Italy were through to the semi-finals. Belgium’s golden generation didn’t live up to expectations yet again.

What’s next for the sides?

Italy have got to the semi-finals for a record 12th time, with German being the only nation to get to the same stage more frequently. The Azzuri will face Spain in yet another fascinating encounter and after this performance they will be favourites yet again. If Italy come out victorious against Spain they will have themselves a spot in the final, which will be held at Wembley. Moreover, they could also potentially face England, Ukraine, Denmark or Czech Republic if they were to reach the final. Belgium, who are amongst the favourites for every tournament, seem to come up short when it matters. At both the Euros and World Cup they breeze their group, but when they it comes to the big games their key players go missing. De Bruyne lost his influence as the game went on and Lukaku didn’t capitalize on defensive mistakes from Italy. There will be an inquest into this defeat and questions will be asked of manager Roberto Martinez. Mancini on the other will receive all the praise as Italy are on course to reach the final.

Author: Rajan Sangha