Italy reached a new level as they put in an exceptional performance to progress to the semi-final of Euro 2020.
The observation that has been levelled at Roberto Mancini’s side throughout Euro 2020 is that they have not played anyone ‘good’ yet. Despite putting in deeply impressive performances in the group stage, the memories of Italy’s World Cup 2018 absence was too prominent for many to allow themselves to think Gli Azzurri could go all the way.
Italy swept Turkey and Switzerland aside in their first two games, winning both 3-0 and looking capable of scoring more. Up until that atmospheric opening night at the Stadio Olimpico, Italy had never scored more than twice in a European Championship game.
Against Wales, it was just a 1-0 win, but the intensity was there despite Mancini making eight changes and the team knowing their place as group winners was already secure.
Austria followed in the round of 16, for a while it seemed the naysayers may be about to get their way. Italy struggled to be creative but eventually muddled through in extra time thanks to Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina.
A quarter-final against Belgium seemed like a fixture that may confirm Italy’s level. If they withered under the lights and couldn’t cope with Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne and co. it would be clear that they are not yet an elite outfit.
Wither under the lights, they did not.
The game against Belgium was played at a near-frightening intensity and it was the Belgian’s who had the better of the first 10 minutes. Italy grew into the game after Leonardo Bonucci’s correctly disallowed goal and started to subject Belgium to the same gung-ho attacking that Turkey and Switzerland had been on the receiving end of.
Nicolo Barella’s opener showed the immense composure he possesses in the box, and Lorenzo Insigne’s special long-range effort meant Italy had a deserved 2-0 lead in the first half. Romelu Lukaku’s penalty reigned in the jubilation and meant Italy had to exhibit a different skill-set in the second half.
Both sides continued to look threatening in the second half but the impetus was of course on Roberto Martinez’s side to find a goal. Italy then showed that famous defensive steel that has become the watching world’s most talked-about Italian national team characteristic.
Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci celebrated every block, header, and tackle as if were a goal. Rennes youngster Jeremy Doku looked almost uncontainable at times, but the backline stayed firm whilst riding their luck at times.
After the attacking display of the first half and the defensive solidity of the second, all that was left for Italy to add was a sprinkling of the dark arts. Some of the time-wasting and free-kick winning on show was masterful for those it benefited and enraging for those it hindered.
Belgium are ranked the best team in the world according to FIFA. Italy showed tonight that they can mix it with the best. They will be clear favourites for the semi-final against Spain on 6th July and should they reach the final, will not fear their opponent at all.