LONDON – The crucial first touch to the opening goal, the one that spawned all that followed, did not come from one of the traditional parts of a body used to control a ball – the foot, sometimes the head, maybe chest – but something a little more unorthodox. Federico Chiesa had to improvise, so he used his face.
Minutes later, Andrea Belotti created Italy’s second goal as he was lying on the ground in the wrong direction, with two Austrian defenders pressing around him and desperately trying to extract the ball from under his body. Belotti dragged, twisted and scratched the grass with his legs outstretched, protecting his possession until help arrived.
Neither of these efforts was a case study of refinement. It is not possible, not really, to look elegant by being hit in the nose by a bullet, or by squirming on your back. The goals themselves could have been feats of skill – a nice volley from Chiesa, then an emphatic finish from Matteo Pessina – but they had been created by more rudimentary virtues: tenacity, courage and unyielding inflexibility.
Italy captured a lot of hearts and minds in the first two weeks of Euro 2020. Roberto Mancini’s side beat Turkey in the tournament opener in Rome and then swept away Switzerland . With his place in the round of 16 secured, Mancini sent in a ghost team for the final match, but he was still good enough to knock out Wales while barely sweating.