Euro Flashback: Conte masterclass helps Italy sink star-studded Belgium
Throughout Euro 2020, we have been looking back at classic games from previous tournaments. Ahead of their quarter-final meeting tonight, we recall Italy’s 2-0 victory over Belgium in the 2016 group stage.
Italy were written off before they had even kicked a ball at Euro 2016.
Antonio Conte’s side lacked any real star quality and had been thumped 4-1 by world champions Germany just a few months prior to the tournament.
Belgium, meanwhile, had high expectations going into the finals. A squad jam-packed with big names brought hope that the golden generation would make a splash.
Unsurprisingly, Italy were given very little chance in their opening game of Group E against Marc Wilmots’ side in Lyon.
Belgium started the game brightly, with Radja Nainggolan and Romelu Lukaku both testing Gianluigi Buffon in the Azzurri goal.
But the Italian back three of Georgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli were not prepared to concede.
Against the run of play, it was a moment of brilliance from Bonucci that would lead to the opener.
The centre-back played a superb pass over the Belgium defence, finding the chest of Sunderland midfielder Emanuele Giaccherini.
The ball was coolly brought down by Giaccherini, who then proceeded to slot it past Thibaut Courtois to make it 1-0.
It was a tactical display for the ages from Antonio Conte. His side defended with intelligence, strength and worked tirelessly for one another.
Belgium, on the other hand, were dazed. Arguments were taking place among players while substitutions made by Wilmots were booed by the Belgian faithful.
The Red Devils would rue their missed chances.
Lukaku broke free with just Buffon to beat but dragged his shot wide of the post.
Substitute Divock Origi had two almost identical chances to draw the sides level. On both occasions the striker found himself unmarked in the penalty box but his headers were unable to find the target.
With the game drawing to a close, Italy’s spirit came to the fore. In stoppage time, five white shirts broke forward on the counter.
Antonio Candreva picked out Graziano Pelle at the back post, leaving Courtois in no man's land.
Pelle found the back of the net with a sweetly struck first-time volley to send the Italians into raptures.
The performance was summed up by the celebrations for the goal. Buffon sprinted the length of the pitch to join in the Azzurri’s revelry as they defeated the Red Devils 2-0.
A tournament to forget
Conte’s side went on to top the group, putting in a similarly assured performance against Sweden before falling to a 1-0 defeat against the Repblic of Ireland.
The Azzurri continued their habit of upsetting the big boys by beating reigning champions Spain 2-0 in the last 16 but lost on penalties to Germany in the quarter-finals.
Belgium followed up the defeat to Italy with victories over the Irish and Sweden in the group stage, before trouncing Hungary 4-0 in the first knockout round.
But they were defeated 3-1 by Wales in the quarter-finals in Lille, bringing Wilmots’ tenure as national team coach to an end.