Beyond the goals, the work Italy put in Euro 2020 win over Belgium

Euro 2020: A lot will be spoken about Italy’s goalscorers or the superb saves pulled off by goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma or the last-ditch blocks during the rearguard final 15 minutes, to close out the win against Belgium. But stringing them all together is the unspectacular aspect of the game: Italy's work-rate off the ball.

Italy

Italy players celebrate after winning their Euro 2020 quarterfinal against Belgium.   -  AP

With the score level at 0-0 after a pulsating start to the European Championship (Euro 2020) quarterfinal at the Allianz Arena, Italy wins a freekick on the right channel in the 30th minute. It’s taken quickly and is rolled to Marco Verratti, who lifts the ball high into the box for Ciro Immobile.

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Belgium centre-back Jan Vertonghen does well to win the ball back but as he looks to play out from his own box, he is converged by three Italian players who cut out his passing options. Vertonghen releases the ball but it’s intercepted by Verratti, who slips it into Nicolo Barella inside the box. The midfielder bulldozes his way past his marker before smashing the ball into the back of the net.

Press on Vertonghen

Three Italian players cut out Vertonghen's passing options.   -  Screengrab/SonyLiv

 

Verrati pass to Barella

Verratti slips it to Barella inside the box.   -  Screengrab/SonyLiv

 

Immediately after the goal, Leonardo Spinazzola looks for an ambitious pass upfront for Immobile to chase but ends up overhitting it. Belgium’s Thomas Vermaelen nods it back to his goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois but Immobile hasn’t given up on it. Courtois takes a poor first touch with Immobile harrying down on him at pace. As Courtois knocks it to his left, Immobile barges him off the ball and sends him tumbling to the floor.

Immobile has support arriving in the form of Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Chiesa but before the Italian No. 17 could get to the ball, the referee blows the whistle and spares Courtois blushes. There were no appeals from the Belgian players when Immobile made the contact while the Italians felt it was a legitimate challenge.

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In the 42nd minute, Belgium pass the ball around in defence for a while before Vertonghen plays a long ball down the left channel, which is headed towards Verratti but ends up miscontrolling it. He is joined by Barella, as they immediately hunt down Axel Witsel with Verratti, who is on a yellow card, sliding in to win the ball back. Italy is on the offensive again, stretching Belgium’s defence with its quick passing before fashioning a chance for Immobile which he fails to score from.

Belgium clears the ball out from defence but it finds the feet of Jorginho. Jorginho turns around and plays the ball back to Leonardo Bonucci at the halfway line with Kevin de Bruyne giving chase.

Jorginho pass to Bonucci

Jorginho plays the ball back to Bonucci.   -  Screengrab/SonyLiv

 

KDB press on Bonucci

Bonucci has Kevin de Bruyne snapping at his heels.   -  Screengrab/SonyLiv

 

De Bruyne follows the ball as it's played back to Gianluigi Donnarumma, who takes a touch and measures a pass towards Verratti. The Italian No. 6 receives the ball and gets support from Barella with only Witsel looking to push up and in the process ends up releasing the pressure on Italy.

Lack of press from Belgium

There is little to no press from the Belgians on the Italian defenders.   -  Screengrab/SonyLiv

 

A frustrated De Bruyne puts his hands up in the air, seemingly gesturing to his teammates’ lack of effort in closing down as Italy recirculates possession out from the back with ease.

KDB frustrated

De Bruyne is left flustered with his team's lack of effort in closing down the Italy defence.   -  Screengrab/SonyLiv

 

Barella immediately finds Insigne in space near the halfway line and he ends up producing one of the goals of the tournament to put Italy 2-0 up and in control of the Euro 2020 quarterfinal.

A lot will be spoken about Italy’s goalscorers: Barella and Insigne, who produced two skillful goals or the superb saves Donnarumma pulled off at 0-0 or the last-ditch blocks during the rearguard action in final 15 minutes, to close out the win. But stringing them all together is the unspectacular aspect of the game: work-rate off the ball.

Italy had a near-perfect first half if it wasn’t for the late penalty from which Romelu Lukaku pulled one back for Belgium. And these were some of the key passages of plays, which defined the game and helped highlight the difference between the two sides. Belgium coach Roberto Martinez admitted that his team paid the price for its slow start in the first half. Belgium grew into the game in the second period but ultimately fell short, yet again.

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The average age of both the starting XIs wasn’t too dissimilar with Belgium (29.27 to Italy’s 28.36) bringing down the number considerably from its Round-of-16 line-up. Key midfielder de Bruyne made the team after a race against time due to an injury concern. But the performances on the night had much to do with the marginally contrasting philosophy of both the coaches.

“There are no starters, there are only the 11 who go out on the pitch,” Italy’s head coach Roberto Mancini has repeatedly insisted during the course of the tournament, highlighting the collective work which is required to pull off his philosophy. Mancini’s men pressed, sprinted and jostled with the energy and enthusiasm as they ran an ageing, star-studded Belgium side ragged in the first half. Italy outran Belgium by 3.4 km in the first half and finished the game having covered 112 km, six more than Martinez’s men.

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There have been some doubts about whether this Italian team has been tested enough in this tournament. Former England defender Gary Neville, who while heaping praise about the team’s work-rate and quality, felt ‘they will fall short’ when they come up against the better teams. France’s World Cup and Euro winner Patrick Vieira felt the team lacked ‘intensity, power and pace.’

In the quarterfinal, Italy displayed all of those qualities in abundance to put on a clinic against the World’s no. 1 ranked men’s side and extended its unbeaten record to 32 matches.

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