After being thoroughly tested by Austria in the round of 16, Roberto Mancini’s Azzurri rebounded in a big way in the quarterfinals. It was nervy until the very end, but when the final whistle blew, it was Italy that left Munich with a statement victory over Belgium. It was a bitter defeat for the Red Devils golden generation, which may have played its last tournament as a unit.
The Belgians were dangerous, but Italy’s defense was stout again. No, this time around they couldn’t manage to keep a clean sheet, but the Azzurri didn’t concede from open play for the fourth time in five matches as Belgium’s only tally came from the spot.
Plus, the Azzurri again found their scoring touch from different members of the starting XI. Even with its strikers off the mark for the third straight match, Italy has continued to come up with ways to find the back of the net. It all adds up to what should be an entertaining affair against Spain in the semifinals.
Before we look ahead to Tuesday’s showdown at Wembley though, we’d be remiss not to coronate some saints and ask a sinner to say his penance.
We must begin with the man of the match. Insigne was certainly Lorenzo Il Magnifico in this one. The Napoli man started fairly slowly with a few misplaced passes, but he grew into the eventual match-winner. Insigne’s curling effort in the 44th minute was pure class. It’s a shot that’s become his trademark over the years and it’s oh so much sweeter when he’s not victimizing Roma with it.
However, Insigne was so much than that goal tonight. The diminutive playmaker completed three key passes and four successful long balls, as he linked up with Spinazzola down the left flank. When Insigne is on, Italy is so dangerous in attack.
Barella must’ve listened to our last episode of Across the Romaverse, as he rebounded from a disappointing match against Austria in a big way. The Inter man was involved in both goals—scoring the first himself before assisting Insigne on the second.
Barella’s goal was pure class as his close control beat the Belgian defense before he slotted it home far post. In addition to his goal and assist, Barella had three successful dribbles, two key passes, and two successful long balls. He also worked hard defensively. When Barella is on his game, the Italy midfield is just so much more dynamic.
As the matches get more meaningful and Italy’s defense is tested more often, Donnarumma continues to rise to the occasion. Donnarumma was only beat once by Lukaku’s penalty and made two big saves on Belgium’s other shots on target. The new PSG man also controlled his area, using his big physique to claim anything within his reach. Italy is blessed with yet another world-class keeper named Gianluigi.
Don’t let his 36 years fool you, Chiellini still has it. The Juve man bounced back from the injury that kept him out of Italy’s last two matches in a big way. Chiellini relished the opportunity to go toe-to-toe with big Romelu Lukaku and more than held his own.
Chiellini was physical with Lukaku but only committed one foul all match. And he led his side with six clearances, while also blocking a shot, intercepting one pass, and winning two aerials. Plus, Chiellini’s leadership and coolness along the backline are immeasurable as the stakes get bigger.
Bonucci bounced back from a pretty poor performance against Austria with a classic Bonucci performance. The Juve man was unfortunate not to have a goal to his name when VAR called back for a narrow offside. But that didn’t dampen his spirits.
While his longtime partner in crime, Chiellini, did most of the defensive dirty work, Bonucci dictated play from the back. His passing was crucial as Italy continuously broke the Belgian lines. Bonucci completed 90.3% of his 62 passes, including 15 of 21 long balls. Bonucci just looks so much more comfortable with Chiellini beside him and Italy’s build-up play is the beneficiary.
Jorginho just does all the little things for this Italy side that makes it so good. The Chelsea man continues to dictate play from the center of the park with metronomic passing. In this one Jorginho completed 98.6% of his 71 passes. That’s right, 98.6%! That also included going four for four on long balls and one key pass, while drawing three fouls.
His 85 touches were second on the team and he did plenty in defense as well. The Italo-Brazilian did a bit of everything with three interceptions, two clearances, a tackle, and a block. He just continues to make Italy tick.
Verratti’s return has been huge for Italy’s midfield. There were calls for Manuel Locatelli to start this one, but Verratti continues to prove why he’s a surefire starter for Mancini. The PSG man led the Azzurri 104 touches in just 73 minutes while completing 94.4% of his 89 passes including the assist on Barella’s opening goal. He also drew three fouls, while completing three key passes.
However, perhaps the most impressive part of Verratti’s performance was the way he continued to break up Belgian attacks after taking a yellow card in the 20th minute. He was second on the team with four tackles, while also logging one block, one interception, and one clearance. Another immense performance.
This halo is the most bittersweet of all. The Roma man is arguably Italy’s MVP up to this point, but his tournament ended in the 79th minute when he was stretchered off in tears with what reports indicate is a blown Achilles.
However, before his exit, Spinazzola completed 95.5% of his passes, including three key passes. His most crucial play was the block he had on Lukaku to keep it 2-1 in the 61st minute. We wish Spinazzola a speedy recovery.
Caught in Between
Giovanni Di Lorenzo
Di Lorenzo had his hands full all night with youngster Jeremy Doku. And Doku made the Napoli man pay right before halftime when he got by Di Lorenzo in the box who nudged Doku over for a penalty. That allowed Belgium to score its only goal.
However, had Di Lorenzo not conceded that penalty, we likely would’ve seen him in the saints' list. He stuffed the defensive stat sheet with a team-high seven tackles and five clearances—only surpassed by Chiellini. He also lead the team in four fouls, which is an indication of just how dangerous Doku was. A gutty performance against a real burner on the ball from Di Lorenzo.
Chiesa was a willing runner throughout the match, but with most of the Italian attack flowing through the left with Insigne and Spinazzola, Chiesa’s touches were limited. He finished with just 38. However, when he was on the ball he felt like a danger man. Although none were on target, Chiesa led the team with five total shots. Italy would be wise to get Chiesa more involved next match as his speed and dribbling could be deadly on the counter against Spain.
It was nearly a sinner-less performance for the Azzurri tonight. However, Immobile was poor. The Lazio man had just 40 touches and he wasted most of them. Immobile was dispossessed three times and had six unsuccessful touches. Immobile also completed just 73.9% of his 23 passes. Italy won in spite of Immobile’s poor striker play tonight. The Azzurri need the group stage Immobile and his two goals to return.