Barella and Insigne’s strike ruled out Belgium from the title race

July 3, 2021

“I think I know Bonucci better than my wife”, said Giorgio Chiellini as his eyes shone bright which occurred when he stifled his laughter underneath it while talking about his partnership with his teammate Leonardo Bonucci a day before Italy’s Quarter-final face-off with Belgium. The partnership and camaraderie at the heart of the Italian defense that they both had displayed last night was a treat for the soul of all the Italian fans far and wide. The scene could be fast-forwarded a bit here as the players were emerging onto the pitch from the tunnel for the initiation of the second half. The camera pointed towards Giorgio Chiellini who had run up to his half and took his position kneeled and plucked some fresh grass and rubbed it in his hands and smelled his hands just to get the aroma of it. This scene had probably been missed by most of the viewers but those who witnessed would agree with me when I say that “Italians and their passion” is always on another level because this is the dedication or more like worship you can say.

If we could take a moment, to sum up, Italy’s transformation from not being able to qualify for the 2018 World Cup to their phenomenal performance in this year’s EURO’s then it boiled down to the 44th minute at Allianz Arena. Lorenzo Insigne’s magnificent curled-up in-stepper from the edge of the area traveled beyond Thibaut Courtois’ reach to spike up the scoreline to 0-2. Insigne had started his run from the halfway line and dribbled his way to the box in a rhythm that could only be recognized by the defenders who had studied his movements but stalled out in front of his magic moves and eventually gave in.

Insigne’s goal

The current World number ‘ONE’, Belgium had failed to show for their ranking as the last ever spotlight that they managed to achieve was in World Cup 2018 when they beat Brazil in the quarter-finals. Roberto Martinez’s leadership took Belgium to this year’s Quarter-finals but that extra spark which was needed to stand tall and strong in front of the Azzurri’s defense line which had been missing from the attitude of the squad in its entirety. The Belgian attack led by their lone-striker Romelu Lukaku could not find their way effectively around Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini’s defensive block as Gianluigi Donarrumma was tested more than he had faced in this competition.

Donarrumma’s save

By far this was one of the most promising Belgium sides that we had seen in years- with the likes of Youri Tielemens, Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne, one or more Hazards (Eden and Thorgan) even Jeremy Doku. Vincent Kompany, Marouane Fellini had already gone out and nine outfielders in this squad are over 30. Maybe this is what costed them. But one thing is certain that the exclusion of Eden Hazard from the lineup due to injury did affect their attacking play as they had lost that artistic touch to their canvas which only Eden Hazard could have produced.

Kevin De Bruyne in action

The Italians had struggled to get hold of the possession from the Red Devils till the opening eight minutes of play but when they found their way out Spinazzola with his raveling techniques started to cause a menace at the left flank. Although the Belgian defense had stood strong by neutralizing every possible attack directed towards them, the Italians found a way out as Federico Chiesa made his dangerous run-ins inside the Belgian box with cross-field passes from Insigne, but the break-in was difficult for the Italians as the path for Ciro Immobile had been completely blocked. Leonardo Bonucci had come close to put his team one up around 12 minutes of the play but he was adjudged offside and that would have been a lesson for Belgium as they could not track Bonucci’s move at the farther post which the defensive line should have closed beforehand.

Bonucci’s attempt on goal

The Azzurri’s had stood strong in the face of the Lukaku’s threat as Chiellini and Bonucci along with their custodian Donarrumma kept him at a close watch. The deadlock had been finally broken by the Italians at the 31st minute as Marco Verratti had forwarded the ball to Nicolo Barella who skipped past Thorgan Hazard and smashed the shot across the keeper at the far corner. Roberto Mancini gasped with relief as his team looked stronger than ever.

Barella’s first strike

The sloppy challenge on Jeremy Doku by Di Lorenzo at the additional minute of the first half of proceedings inside the box had made the referee point towards the penalty spot and Lukaku did not miss his chance of putting his team up in the scoreline. The referee had blown the whistle to indicate the end of the first half and as the players descended towards their dressing room the scoreboard shimmered with 1-2.

Only time Donarrumma was beat

The second half of the encounter had felt like a different kind of cosplay for Belgium as they dug deep and defended which looked somewhat like the Old Italian side, while Italy played largely in the Belgian half, playing the possession-based football that was supposed to characterize with the Belgians golden generation. Although Donarrumma had made some fine saves from the attempts of Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku and that was it for the night. Italy’s only disappointment for the night was the loss of Leonardo Spinazzola to an Achilles tendon tear injury which dictated that the left-back would miss the next match for the Azzuri’s when they would be taking on Spain for the semis.

Belgium: Courtois, Alderweireld, Vermaelen, Vertonghen, Meunier, Tielemans, Witsel, Thorgan Hazard, Doku, De Bruyne, Lukaku.
Subs: Boyata, Carrasco, Sels, Mertens, Denayer, Dendoncker, Benteke, Chadli, Batshuayi, Trossard, Praet, Kaminski.

Italy: Donnarumma, Di Lorenzo, Bonucci, Chiellini, Spinazzola, Barella, Jorginho, Verratti, Chiesa, Immobile, Insigne.
Subs: Sirigu, Locatelli, Belotti, Berardi, Pessina, Emerson Palmieri, Acerbi, Cristante, Bernardeschi, Bastoni, Toloi, Meret.

Referee: Slavko Vincic (Slovenia).

Star of the Match: Leonardo Insigne

Leonardo Insigne with the Star of the Match award