Friday night was always going to be Italy’s biggest test yet. No matter the records they’ve set, the shutout streak that has now come and unfortunately gone and everything in between, Italy had both its Euro 2020 life and so much of the expectations on the line while facing the No. 1-ranked team in the world.
Italy didn’t just hang with ‘em.
Italy delivered the goods — and the run isn’t over yet because of it.
Roberto Mancini and Co. are heading back to Wembley, a place where they have already won once during this tournament. Thanks to first-half goals from Nicolo Barella and Lorenzo Insigne and some absolutely dogged and relentless defending in the second half, Italy emerged with a 2-1 win over Belgium in Munich to book their ticket to the semifinals of Euro 2020. Italy will face Spain on Tuesday, with vibes of previous Euros likely running through your mind as you read the first few words of this sentence.
Those memories are probably not all good. But they’re also not all bad.
Either way, Italy’s coming off another big-time win, and the performance they put in against Belgium was only further confirmation that this team has what it takes to live up to the hype as one of the tournament favorites following an impressive group stage showing.
It doesn’t matter if it was Giorgio Chiellini rolling back the years and leading a defense that looks to be without both of its starting fullbacks or a midfield trio showing why they’re so well-rounded, this Italy team just continues to impress you with every game they played.
Italy suffered when they needed to suffer. They absorbed Belgium’s pressure when they needed to do just that. And, even with all of the pressure that Belgium was throwing Italy’s way, the final stats tell us this on the shot chart:
- Italy shots: 14
- Belgium shots: 10
That’s not the be-all, end-all, but that’s impressive as all hell, man.
Italy did every single thing it had to do after Romelu Lukaku’s penalty right before halftime cut the lead in half. Rather than faltering after said penalty giveaway and subsequent goal, they came out from the halftime break and essentially did the same thing they were doing for much of the first half. This is a group that’s resilient as hell and it only continues to show with each passing game.
This Italy might not be the star-studded one that was around when they were last considered one of the best teams in the world. But now, with the magic Mancini continues to sprinkle over this team and so much going right for them, it’s hard to believe that Tuesday night is going to be the last time we see them at the Euros.
You want a performance that backs up all that hype, it’s this one.
These boys are playing so damn well right now it’s going to take one hell of an effort to fully slow them down. And, knowing how Italians love to embrace the suffering, who knows if that will even be enough.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- Leonardo Spinazzola saved a goal with his ass.
- Spinazzola then got hugged by his teammates like he just scored a goal. Italians love them some defending, man — and it’s beautiful.
- Then Spinazzola went off the field in a stretcher after pulling something (and that feels like a conservative guesstimation). This poor guy. He was easily one of the best players in the whole damn tournament and now he has played his final minutes at the Euros. If there was ever a player who deserved the shine he was getting, it’s Spinazzola after everything he has been through in his career. Now, it looks like he’s got months of rehab ahead of him. This sucks.
- Imagine if that Leonardo Bonucci goal had stood. This win would have been even more impressive than it already is.
- Giorgio Chiellini is running the show at a major international tournament and he’s 36 years old. Oh, and he did what he did Friday night in his first game back from injury. As always, we never know when that next Chiellini injury is going to be, but man is it fun to watch him be the absolutely amazing defender he is when he’s healthy and enjoying his football.
- I mean, seriously, the guy slides to block a shot by Kevin De Bruyne, and what does he do? He just cracks one of those classic Chiellini ear-to-ear grins and starts laughing. There is NOBODY who enjoys defending like Chiellini enjoys defending and you’re gonna have to work your ass off to tell me otherwise.
- Expert analysis: Jeremy Doku is FAST FAST.
- Ciro Immobile — probably one of the few Italians who didn’t play well against Belgium.
- Actually, not a probably. Immobile was Italy’s worst player outside of staying on the ground and pretending to be hurt on Barella’s goal. Hey, it was better than actually trying to get up and maybe being in the way, right? Right, let’s go with that.
- Lorenzo Insigne’s goal ... COTDAMN. That was a beautiful thing.
- Some of the balls Bonucci was playing over the top to people ... that’s another beautiful thing from this game.
- Federico Chiesa got the start he deserved following his big performance off the bench in the round of 16. He didn’t get a goal again, but he definitely played well enough to deserve another start against Spain. He is such a joy to watch, and the form he’s in right now looks a whole lot like what he was doing for Juventus during the second half of the 2020-21 season.
- Jorginho completed 98.6 percent of his passes. That’ll play.
- Nico Barella is looking like the midfielder that got away, isn’t he? It’s scary to think he’s only 24 years old. He’s only going to continue to get better, and you can really tell how much working with Antonio Conte the last two years has paid off for him.
- But I do appreciate Mancini keeping Manuel Locatelli on the bench in this game so that his reported €40 million price tag doesn’t risk going up any further. Very nice of you, Roberto.