It was Nicolo Barella who gave Italy the lead 31 minutes as the Belgian defense fell asleep, the back line repeating that 13 minutes later while letting Insigne beat Thibaut Courtois from outside the box. With a De Bruyne who was not 100% fit and Eden Hazard absent due to injury, Belgium, the No.1 team in the world by FIFA, had their chances. A late first-half penalty from Romelu Lukaku allowed the Red Devils to score a goal, but they couldn’t find the equalizer in the second half despite the odds the Golden Generation has yet to pull it off to deliver on a big stage.
Italy ended the day with just three of their 14 shots on goal, but they ultimately did enough to advance to the semi-finals for the first time since 2012, although it wasn’t all good new. Roma defender Leonardo Spinazzola, who was a huge contributor for the team during their run, has torn his Achilles tendon and will be sidelined for a long time, Sky Sport Italia reported after the game.
Three takeaways for an entertaining evening at the Alianz Arena in Munich.
1. De Bruyne looked far from in good shape
Just like Manchester City, Belgium can be pretty average when their superstar isn’t 100%. After facing Portugal in the round of 16, De Bruyne looked far from fit. He still had a few moments, smart passes and was able to win free kicks, but he only had one very good look at the goal, which came in the first half and was saved well. by Gianluigi Donnarumma. You can argue that a De Bruyne in 75% form is better than anyone else on the squad, but he was nowhere near imposing his will and resuming a game like we have often seen. Someone else was going to have to step up, and despite Lukaku and Jeremy Doku’s moments, they were just too wasteful in the end.
2. Insigne is having a bad day for Immobile
After only being a replacement at Euro 2016 with Italy, veteran Lorenzo Insigne took advantage of his chance this time around. He stepped into a huge location when forward Ciro Immobile struggled. The Napoli veteran’s winning goal came from a great run from the midfielder, although it could have been better defended (more details below). After having missed Youri Tielemans, he approached the surface and sent this curling effort to the back of the net.
Perhaps the most memorable goal of his great career, putting his team on the brink of a place in the Euro 2020 final.
3. The defense of the Red Devils made it too easy
For all the brilliant Belgian midfielders and strikers, the defense can be scary at night. When your main center-back, the one running the backline, is a fickle 35-year-old veteran playing in the Japanese league, you already have problems.
Thomas Vermaelen has long been a handicap and Jan Vertonghen is hardly better. While they have some terrific players at the back, this is by far the weakest unit on the team, and that was evident on Friday night. If you look at the opening goal, the team were slow to respond, didn’t follow Barella and paid dearly for it. But the second goal was the most alarming, as they failed to put pressure on Insigne. If you watch the replay again you’ll see Tielemans stalking the defense after the goal, wondering why they haven’t closed. It was defensemen’s poor performance that might have passed their prime, and manager Roberto Martinez surely would have asked them to shut down, as Insigne still seems to be looking for that distant curler.
As has been the case for some time now, Belgium on paper looks great, but they make up a full backline of defenders far from real contenders.
Belgium 1, Italy 2 (FT)