Italy confounded expectations by delivering a mature and impressive performance in Lyon on Monday night, snagging a deserved 2-0 victory over a lacklustre Belgium.
- Italy 2 Belgium 0
- Both teams start slowly
- Giaccherini fires Italy in front
- Belgium waste several clear-cut chances
- Italy look solid at the back
- Pelle scores at the death to double Italy’s lead
The match started slowly, with neither team, Belgium in particular, looking comfortable at the front or back.
Italy found their stride first, shoring up their defence and scoring an excellent goal through Emanuele Giaccherini, Leonardo Bonucci providing the assist.
Belgium threatened before the end of the first half but wasted several opportunities in the second.
Italy produced a disciplined performance, with Belgium looking more and more frantic as the second half progressed.
The Azzurri put the result beyond doubt in the final seconds of the match, Grazianno Pelle finishing neatly on the volley after a swift counter attack.
Aside from a very short spell on the edge of the Belgium area, where Italy played a couple of attractive one-touch passes through the Belgium defence, the opening 10 minutes of the match was relatively sedate.
Belgium was the first team to get a shot on target. Marouanne Fellaini nodded down for Radja Nainggolan after Romelu Lukaku forced a botched clearance. The Roma midfielder’s sweetly struck shot from 30 yards fizzed towards the bottom right corner but Buffon did well to save.
The match entered a 20-minute period where both teams struggled to piece attacking moves together. This despite neither team looking organised in defence.
Indeed, Belgium’s defence was particularly at fault for the first goal, although both creator and finisher, Leonardo Bonucci and Emanuele Giaccherini respectively, should take the majority of the credit. It was a beautiful ball over the top, immaculately controlled on the bounce and finished to the right of Thibaut Courtois with aplomb.
A minute later Italy again threatened, this time Candreva, with a stinging long distance shot parried over the crossbar.
From the resultant corner, a sharp, dipping cross met the head of a completely unchallenged Pelle, who wasted a prime opportunity to put his side two goals up by heading narrowly wide.
Belgium appeared to lift themselves somewhat following the goal, with Fellaini coming close with a long-range effort.
Soon after, Kevin De Bruyne was put into space inside the penalty area by the impressive Fellaini, but the Manchester City forward’s shot was well intercepted.
The match was turned on it’s head by the goal, the end of the second half as entertaining as the the first 30 minutes was insipid. While Belgium may not have deserved an equaliser, they certainly deserve credit for showing more intent.
Italy started the second half well, again showing some sharp skills on the edge of the Belgium area, a neat one-two putting Eder into enough space for a cross, but Belgium’s standout player, Jan Vertongen, did exceptionally well to get a sliding tackle in.
Shortly after, Eden Hazard broke away in midfield and put Lukaku through on goal with not a defender in sight. Buffon charged to the edge of the penalty area, pressuring the Everton striker into a chip shot which looped over the crossbar.
Pelle again failed to make a free header count, although he did get his next shot on target. The forward leaped above his marker and headed down towards goal but Courtois did exceptionally well to deny the Italians their second.
The match opened up and some very entertaining football was on display, although Lukaku would have to be singled out as a player who looked the weak link for the Red Devils.
It was not for want of possession that Belgium failed to threaten. During the middle stages of the second half Marc Wilmots’ young side certainly spent enough time running at the Italy goal, but simply could not find a way through an Italy defence that found their feet after a nervous start to the match.
Divock Origi replaced Lukaku on 72 minutes. The player’s only contribution, however, was to waste two golden opportunities to equalise by heading over the bar with nine minutes left on the clock and missing the ball completely in the final minute of normal time.
With Italy’s defensive approach and Belgium’s ineptness going forward, the match looked destined to end in a 1 – 0 win for Italy, but a sharp counter-attack from them resulted in a deserved second.
Antonio Candreva drew Courtois out of goal, and found time to deliver a cross for Pellè who showed tremendous skill to swivel and score with virtually the last kick of the match.