Astute Italy bag Belgium points due to Giaccherini and Pelle goals in Group E
Holly Thackeray | June 13, 2016
Belgium 0-2 Italy
- Sunderland-owned Giaccherini grabbed the opener on 32 minutes for Italy
- The Azzurri headed into the break with a 1-0 lead
- Belgium fluffed numerous second-half chances
- Pelle added the second goal with a last-gasp volley
Italy prove impenetrable in first Pool E outings
Italy (4/1 shouts with Coral to reach the Euro 2016 semi-finals) got their campaign underway with a staunch 2-0 victory against a star-studded but frustrated Belgium team.
Despite big Belgian fan backing, the Azzurri proved determined and deadly when the occasion called for it, with Sunderland outcast Emanuele Giaccherini nabbing the only goal of an enthralling first-half, with the Red Devils unable to respond to a resilient Italian rearguard. It was then more of the same in the second, with Graziano Pelle’s precision volley crowning a competent victory in the last kick of the game.
This result leaves Pool E finely poised, after Sweden fought back to draw 1-1 with the Republic of Ireland, in the group’s earlier teatime tussle. With pool favourites Belgium’s prospects shaken, it leaves everything to play for…
Italy insistently hold Belgium at bay
Pundits expected Euro 2016 Group E to be one of the competition’s most hotly contested, and were proven right here as Italy barely gave Belgium an inch in the glamour game of the day.
As expected, the Red Devils’ intuitive attackers struggled to shoulder their way into proceedings, as the astute Azzurri kept a tight and taut defensive shape when without the ball, though their wing backs kept play pushed high up the pitch.
It was Brazil-born Eder Citadin Martins who got the first shot off for the savvy Italians, before a cute cross from Lazio’s wily wingman Antonio Candreva was cut out in the cautious opening exchanges.
That it took almost 10 minutes on the clock for Belgium to register an attempt on target said it all about Antonio Conte’s canny contingent featuring stalwarts Giorgio Chiellini and co. Eventually a Marouane Fellaini knockdown found Chelsea target Radja Nainngolan, whose low blast was easily repelled by a sprightly 38-year-old Gianluigi Buffon.
Italy continued to frustrate Marc Wilmots’ men, who grew in presence and possession, piling pressure on the flanks, though the Azzurri remained relatively unruffled, even seeing Pelle sweep a shot wide of Thibaut Courtois’s net.
Belgium caught short at the back
The match needed a fire starter and it fell to rearguard marshal Leonardo Bonucci to step forward out of the Azzurri rearguard organisation and ping an inch perfect cross-field pass.
Bonucci’s ball fell precisely into Belgium’s box around the 32nd minute mark, above a lax Toby Alderweireld who could only gaze on, as Sunderland-owned midfielder Giaccherini’s twinkling toes needed just two quick touches to dispatch past a helpless Courtois. Clinical – not a word usually attributed to the Black Cat recently on loan at Bologna.
Crafty Candreva embodied Italian assurance as the Eagles attacker cut inside to test Courtois just seconds later with a vicious strike, before the Belgian backline was cruelly exposed again after a corner comically failed to be cleared and fell to lurking Pelle. With an open chance at goal, it was lucky for the Red Devils that the striker made a hash of his easy header.
Quiet Kevin De Bruyne almost overcame Azzurri resistance just before the break but, after a smart run saw him squirm through a block of white and blue, he was blocked from pulling the trigger as annoyed whistles rained down on the pitch. Italy came to execute a precise operation, and it was working. At least for the first 45.
Lukaku lashes golden chance over
It seemed to be more of the same after the break, with the Red Devils contained too easily by Italy, who repeatedly cut their opponents’ defence open for fun.
Daniele De Rossi and Eder combined to release Pelle in the area, and though the Southampton sharpshooter dithered perhaps a second too long, it was Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen who slid in to deny with a commendable last-ditch tackle on his Premier League peer.
Soon after keeper Courtois proved his merit with a fantastic finger-tip stop to thwart Pelle at close-range yet, in between, it was the Belgians with the best chance of the match.
In typical counter-attacking style, De Bruyne looked his dangerous Manchester City self as he picked out Romelu Lukaku clear of Italy’s defence, but the big centre forward, charging into space, could not convert the pass – his attempted chip far from delicate enough as it sailed harmlessly over Buffon’s bar.
Wilmots reshuffles Red Devils roster
Red Devils skipper Eden Hazard attempted several times to weave through Azzurri defences to no instant avail, as Belgium belatedly tried to throw the kitchen sink at their rivals. Several moves looked promising as Italy sat back, though hitman Lukaku’s first touch was cumbersome in Lyon and it eventually saw him swapped for Liverpool’s more dynamic Divock Origi.
Dries Mertens of Napoli and Atletico Madrid’s Yannick Ferreira Carrasco were the other two wildcards thrown on by Wilmots to stretch the match.
Both Chiellini and Eder were cautioned for cynically hauling back Belgium on counters as the clocked ticked down with both sides clamouring to keep advantage, with Bonucci later joining them on yellow warnings.
In an incredibly tense ending to the tussle, against tiring and already booked Italian legs, the Red Devils rallied to turn the screw. De Bruyne fizzed a curling cross into exuberant Origi, but the young-gun could not keep his gilded opportunity down. The fledgling Red Devils even tried an overhear kick but it only served to hand possession back to economic Italy.
Pelle crowns Italy success with cracking volley
Substitute Ciro Immobile also had his chance to finish the game with a rifled attempt late on, but Courtois saved Belgian blushes once more. While, in a frenzied finish, Origi and Fellaini fluffed a perfect delivery, amazingly allowing the ball to trickle back to Buffon’s hands – a moment which summed up their inconsistent opening outing.
Then it was up to Pelle (and who else?) to clinch the points and the plaudits, as selfless Candreva helped spring a counter before lofting a ball across to the waiting Saints striker. Almost in slow-motion the Italian twisted and converted the ball to seal Belgium’s fate with a beautiful volley.
For Wilmots, the next clash against a spirited Republic of Ireland could now be crucial, and you can keep up to date on all the latest dramatic developments with Coral.