Heroic Azzurri! Barella and Insigne Tear Lukaku’s Belgium Down

Italy passed the trial of fire. Belgium were beaten in one of the most awaited games of Euro 2020, a Quarter Finals match-up that saw Roberto Mancini’s Azzurri prevail 2-1 over the top-ranked side of Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne. 

The Azzurri won their ticket to the Grand Ball, the Euro 2020 Final Four in Wembley where they will initially face Spain on Tuesday. They did so at the end of a tough, epic battle against what was perhaps the most fearsome opponent: Roberto Martinez’s Belgium, the number one side in the FIFA ranking, powered by a Romelu Lukaku who – for one night – looked less deadly than usual.

After brushing aside opponents who looked weaker on paper and struggling to overcome a tenacious Austria in the first do-or-die game, Roberto Mancini’s Italy showed a different face tonight in Munich: The confident one. Italy controlled Belgium offenses, stung them twice with Nicolò Barella and Lorenzo Insigne and held on when the Diables Rouges pulled one back from the spot. 

The second half saw the Azzurri remain in control and almost never threatened by Belgium, though it took a somehow lucky Lorenzo Spinazzola clearance to keep the score unchanged. All in all, it was a deserved win for Italy who extended their non-losing streak to 33 games. And the best might be yet to come.

Roberto Mancini didn’t change much from the winning formula that had taken him this far. The module remained the same, of course – a tested 4-3-3. Captain Giorgio Chiellini recovered from his injury and regained his spot in the middle of the defense. Federico Chiesa, who had been growing game by game, won a starting spot as right winger to Domenico Berardi’s expense.

Belgium’s Roberto Martinez had his share of trouble to deal with. He did what he could to recover some of his best men but while Kevin De Bruyne managed to make it, Eden Hazard could not be of the game. Martinez’s surprise move was thus deploying 19-year-old Jeremy Doku to fill his spot – and it was a right one, as the Rennes starlet ended up being an absolute scourge for Italy. 

The match pace was high from the get go as one would expect from Belgium. The Belgian Red Devils appeared faster and showed they could be dangerous on the counter. Lukaku’s start was intimidating but as soon as Chiellini managed to get hold of him the Belgian giant was made inoffensive. That was likely where the game was won.

The Azzurri‘s first cry of joy came in the 13th minute but was a short-lasting one. From a Marco Verratti free kick, Leonardo Bonucci magically apparated in the middle of the box and pushed the ball into the back of the net – but his effort was ruled off on grounds of multiple Azzurri offsides. 

Then, it was Belgium’s turn to warm up Gianluigi Donnarumma. The former Milan portierone first pushed back a De Bruyne snapshot – probably the most dangerous thing seen from KDB tonight – then had to dive to his left to defuse a Lukaku challenge on 21 minutes.

Italy and especially Lorenzo Insigne grew minute by minute. The Napoli captain tried twice to put his trademark stamp on the game – a classic right-foot curler – but both chances were neutralized.

And so, it was up to Nicolò Barella to open the scoring on the half hour mark. Marco Verratti’s filtering pass in the middle of the box was brilliant, but the Inter midfielder stole the spotlight with a pure power goal, sneaking past three Belgium men and whipping the ball past Thibaut Courtois to make the Italian-supporting part of the Allianz Arena explode.

Federico Chiesa promptly tried to add a second but missed the target by a few inches. When served by Leonardo Spinazzola, he lost the timing and the Belgian defense somehow cleared the ball. 

On 42 minutes, Lorenzo Insigne’s third attempt was a charm. The Napoli man dashed past Youri Tielemans and unleashed his classic curling effort. This time, the aim was better and Courtois was left with no answer. An absolute stunner from Lorenzo Il Magnifico.    

The Azzurri could have made it to the break with a reassuring double lead, but referee Slavko Vincic decided that a Giovanni Di Lorenzo challenge on Jeremy Doku was worth a penalty. A fiscal decision in our view, but it is what it is. From the spot, Lukaku made no mistake. 

There were no changes after the break. Chiesa’s new shooting attempt showed that Italy had no intention to just sit back and defend their lead. On the contrary, they tried to build up play from the back – though Courtois would end up suffering no major threat in the second period of the game.

Belgium were a bit more dangerous and the Azzurri were helped by luck in a couple of occasions – but those appeared to be just one-off situations.

The closest that Martinez’s side came to an equalizer was on 60 minutes as Lorenzo Spinazzola somehow pushed away with the back of his thigh a De Bruyne pass from the left that was destined to meet Lukaku’s tap in. The action was started from Doku on the left-hand side as Di Lorenzo struggled to take counter measures to block the 19-year-old’s continuous forays. 

On 69 minutes, the Belgians squandered another golden chance. This time, Lukaku’s header failed to push the ball into the right direction and substitute Nacer Chadli – who had to leave the pitch injured just a few minutes after coming into play – also failed to address it properly.

Speaking of injuries, there were some bad news for coach Mancini when Lorenzo Spinazzola had to raise a white flag on 76 minutes, crippled by a suspected Achilles tendon rupture. The Roma man – one of the best-performing Azzurro seen at Euro 2020 so far – was carried off on a stretcher and left the pitch in tears. It was Chelsea’s Emerson Palmieri to replace him.

Mancini’s additional substitutions didn’t change the match trend. Andrea Belotti naturally replaced Ciro Immobile – who didn’t quite enjoy a positive night in the middle of the front line – while Bryan Cristante was sent in for Verratti. Domenico Berardi had his moment as Insigne left the pitch but only made himself noticed for naively being booked.

The last change was a defensive one as Rafael Toloi replaced Federico Chiesa during stoppage time when the only thing left to do for the Azzurri was defending their one-goal lead from Belgium’s last desperate attempts that also featured goalkeeper Courtois as an added man.

The Italian fort held until Vincic’s final whistle. The Azzurri are back among the Top Four of Europe after nine years and will face Spain for the third time in a row in a Euro Cup. In 2012, the Furia Roja demolished the Azzurri in the Final, but four years later Antonio Conte’s Italy took their revenge in a Round of 16 game. Time to settle some long-lasting matters.     




July 2, 2021 – European Championship 2020 Quarter Finals

SCORERS: 32′ Barella (I), 44′ Insigne (I), 45’+2′ Lukaku (B, pen.)

BELGIUM (3-4-1-2): Courtois; Alderweireld, Vermaelen, Vertonghen; Meunier (69′ Chadli, 73′ Praet) , Tielemans (69′ Mertens), Witsel, T. Hazard; Doku, De Bruyne; Lukaku (Sels, Mignolet, Kaminski, Boyata, Denayer, Trossard, Batshuayi, Benteke, Carrasco, Dendoncker) Coach: Martinez
ITALY (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Di Lorenzo, Bonucci, Chiellini, Spinazzola (77′ Emerson); Barella, Jorginho, Verratti (73′ Cristante); Chiesa (90′ Toloi), Immobile (74′ Belotti), Insigne (78′ Berardi) (Sirigu, Meret, Acerbi, Locatelli, Pessina, Bernardeschi, Bastoni) Coach: Mancini

REFEREE: Vincic (Slovenia)
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Tielemans (B), Verratti, Berardi (I); Added Time: 1st Half 3′, 2nd Half 5′