The Azzurri are back! Italians mix style with gulle in Belgium win

The Azzurri are back! Wily Italians mix style with guile in their Euro 2020 quarter-final win over Belgium and it’s hard to bet against Roberto Mancini’s side when they’re in this kind of mood

  • Italy produced a slick and energetic performance in their victory over Belgium 
  • Roberto Mancini has forged a unit full of club spirit and desire to succeed 
  • Striker Ciro Immobile annoyed many with his acting against Belgium 
  • Italy remain the masters of the dark arts, which was evident against Belgium 
  • Find out the latest Euro 2020 news including fixtures, live action and results here

All hail the miracle of Ciro Immobile. Stricken and writhing in agony one second and perfectly well the next. Healed by the goal of Nicolo Barella.

‘Pathetically embarrassing,’ fumed Alan Shearer on the BBC but, when the tittering had subsided, Italy were into the semi-final against Spain at Wembley and Immobile was no less a national hero than the rest of Roberto Mancini’s team.

The Azzurri are back. Slick and energetic. Exciting and intense. They perform with a spirit and style under Mancini and beneath the pastel blue designer blazers they remain the masters of football’s dark arts.

Italy produced a fantastic display to knock out Belgium and reach the Euro 2020 semi-finals

Roberto Mancini has forged a team full of club spirit and desire in their Euro 2020 run

It is not only Immobile’s pretend injury in the first half of Friday’s quarter-final in Munich, acting which had Thomas Vermaelen and Jan Vertonghen still visibly seething as Barella skipped past them and lashed in the opening goal.

But, also, the skill with which they closed the contest, running down the clock and disrupting the flow of the game, rendering the Belgians maddeningly frustrated in their attempts to generate any late-game momentum. 

Every team both dives and exaggerates contact in modern football. The Premier League is arguably the worst example — thanks to the compliance of the officials who seem to have forgotten it is a contact sport as they scrutinise the video replays.

England are certainly not immune and Belgium’s goal in the 2-1 defeat against Italy came courtesy of the softest of penalties, awarded when teenage winger Jeremy Doku tumbled at the slightest touch and the Slovenian referee was backed by his VAR.

Ciro Immobile was writhing in agony before he jumped straight to his feet when Italy scored

Belgium were frustrated at Italy’s antics in their defeat at the Allianz Arena on Friday

‘We were angry in the locker room,’ said Italy’s goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.

‘But we calmed down immediately because there were still 45 minutes left and we didn’t want to waste energy.’

The second-half plan they executed to perfection. The Italians mastered the craft long ago and it always serves them well in tournament football, just so long as it isn’t the only weapon they have.

In this case, Mancini has forged a unit with club spirit and desire. There is pace and energy up front, they will score goals. There is resilience and nous at the back to protect a lead. At the heart, beats the intelligence of Jorginho, outstanding thus far, governing the tempo, driving the team, teasing the best from those around him.

Italy are now one step away from the final and have arguably been the most impressive team

‘The victory of a team,’ declared Marco Verratti after Friday’s win. ‘We pressed hard and didn’t let Belgium think, and this allowed us to create opportunities. We have this kind of game thanks to the coach. We will try to give our best and see where he takes us.’

Italy returned to their base near Florence in the early hours of Saturday and will move on to London in confident mood, determined not to lose their focus at the most critical time, with the nation behind them.

‘We continue to dream with our feet on the ground,’ said defender Leonardo Bonucci. ‘We started these Euros with a dream in the drawer. Let’s keep it in there and dream to the end. We have shown how big the heart of this group is. We must recover our energies and give 100 per cent against Spain, a great team like Belgium.’

They will go on without Leonardo Spinazzola. The Roma left back was released to return to his club for treatment yesterday after damaging an Achilles tendon.

‘It is a big loss for us,’ said Lorenzo Insigne, scorer of Italy’s second. ‘Spinazzola has been a crucial part of this team. It’s very sad and we will try to go all the way for him.’

At least Immobile is fit and well to lead the line. All hail the miracle. And don’t bet against Italy in this kind of mood.

The impressive Leaonardo Spinazzola will be missed for Italy the rest of this tournament

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