Italy come in as underdogs to this match up in Group E and no one could’ve put it in better words than Italy’s coach, "There will be warriors on the pitch for both sides, (…) " and that is what Italy will have to take to Lyon if they want to beat Belgium a squad which is a favorite in this competition (they even are ranked 2nd in the latest FIFA World Rankings). In their previous match up in November 2015, Belgium trashed Italy 3-1. Will the Azzurri prove everyone wrong and make a statement or will they succumb to the pressure of facing one of the favorites to win the tournament?
Blog Written by Matteo Bellini:
Arguably the best match of Euro 2016 thus far ended with Italy beating Belgium 2-0 in somewhat of a shock result. The Italians have put their foot down and made a clear statement that they might even challenge for the silverware, and not even Mark Clattenburg could save Belgium from losing this match.
To begin with, Italy owed their victory to themselves as much as to the fact that Belgium really had an underwhelming performance as a group and on an individual level as well. The only thing I can say about Belgium is that Thibaut Courtois had a great performance. He was decisive, making some great saves and Jan Vertonghen was very solid in defense, but they couldn’t save their team from defeat as both Romelu Lukaku and Divock Origi both wasted very good chances. This Belgian side looked quite sterile on attack, not only due to their own deficiencies but also the great defensive work displayed by the Italians. I am sure most people expected more from the likes of Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne.
Now, let’s talk about the boys in blue. Italy lacked some creativity and precision but they compensated for that with an unrelenting willingness to win. It was clear that the victory was more than just being first in its group; it was a statement and a huge confidence boost, evidenced by Gigi Buffon, who ran the whole pitch to celebrate with his teammates when Graziano Pellé scored in stoppage time. When I first saw how Italy would line up I was worried and angry. I was wondering why would you start Emanuele Giaccherini? Éder? Many agree there are players who don’t deserve to be on the national team and needless to say not starters. I would have gone with Lorenzo Insigne or Stephan El Shaarawy. But Conte proved many wrong, including myself, and made it miraculously work! Giaccherini had an respectable match, not only scoring but he ran the whole time and made some crucial blocks but he still misplaced a handful of passes. Pellé, the other goal scorer, had a very good match almost scoring two headers; Courtois saved one and the other one went wide. As for the rest of the team, there were some mistakes, which resulted in yellow cards. Most were fair, like Éder’s and Bonucci’s who stopped counter attacks but others where really un-called fo. Still, no red cards so that is a good thing.
To sum up, the four-man team the Italian’s have borrowed from Juventus had a huge part in the victory and looked solid throughout the game. Bonucci was fantastic both defensively and going forward, with a sublime assist to Giaccherini. The five man middle proved very effective when defending but lacked some creativity going forward. Daniele De Rossi and Marco Parolo had similar jobs and both played well, though I know they have it in them to completely boss the midfield, at least De Rossi. Antonio Candreva was effective on the right flank and showed up big as he assisted Pellé who scored an exquisite volley. As for Éder he had good movement off the ball though he didn’t really create much or have a chance to score. Matteo Darmian put in a solid performance and so did his replacement Mattia De Sciglio. Thiago Motta didn´t have time to make an impact. Ciro Immobile showed great movement and speed off the bench, while almost scoring but he did help create Italy’s second goal.
It is Italy who will celebrate today as they climb to the top of Group E and could very well be preparing to go deep in the tournament. I hope Conte will be willing to be a bit more attacking-minded in the remaining group stage games. Next match for Italy will be against Sweden on the 17th. Will they manage to keep up the great display they put on today or will Zlatan and his gang steal three crucial points?