The Italian defence celebrated their saves just as enthusiastically as the offence did their goals. Each of them could have Friday to celebrate for many different reasons.
Italy defeated Belgium 2-1 to advance to the semifinals of the European Championships thanks to goals from Nicol Barella and Lorenzo Insigne, as well as a critical block from Leonardo Spinazzola in the second half.
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Insigne added, “Everyone, myself included, is genuinely playing with a grin on our faces,” as his team set a new national record of 32 games without a loss.
Romelu Lukaku’s penalty kick before halftime kept his team in it, but the Belgians wasted several opportunities to tie the game in the second half against an outstanding Italian defence.
The Italians took the lead in the 31st minute thanks to Barella, who scored after a poor clearance by Jan Vertonghen. Barella received a pass from Marco Verratti and beat two players from Belgium before scoring off the far post.
The second was scored by Insigne in the 44th minute, when he dribbled past one defender and then curled the ball past two more into the top corner.
After a push from Giovanni Di Lorenzo on Jeremy Doku, Belgium was awarded a penalty just before halftime. Soon after, Lukaku evened the score with a header that found the back of the net. Italy has conceded only two goals thus far in the tournament.
‘I didn’t see the penalty,’ Italy’s coach Robert Mancini claimed. The defence told me it was cheap, but we put on a great show nevertheless.
On Tuesday at Wembley Stadium in London, Italy will take on Spain in the other semifinal matchup. In St. Petersburg, Spain won 2-1 over Switzerland on penalties.
Right now, we’re going to take a deep breath and enjoy this. Another big match is ahead of us, so we’ll be trying to get some rest, as Mancini put it.
Lukaku had a golden opportunity to tie the game in the second half when Kevin De Bruyne crossed to the far post, but Spinazzola made a diving save at the last second. Despite being showered with kisses from his appreciative colleagues, Spinazzola had to be taken away on a stretcher due to a leg injury.
As Insigne put it, “Spinazzola has been a significant component of this team,” thus the team will do its best to win the event primarily for him.
De Bruyne returned to the starting lineup after missing time with a left ankle injury, while Eden Hazard sat this one out.
As much as we could, we sacrificed. After Belgium lost their 13th consecutive game, coach Roberto Martnez commented, “I couldn’t be prouder of my players and the staff.” Everything about this event has been excellent, and everyone has worked extremely hard.
It was clear that Belgium’s focus was on defence, as it was in the 1-0 victory over Portugal. When Italy held possession, a back three became a back five as Thorgan Hazard and Thomas Meunier dropped back to aid.
With roughly 20 minutes left, Martnez substituted in Dries Mertens and Nacer Chadli. In his first few seconds on the field, Chadli nearly set up an equaliser, but his cross was too high for Lukaku and went behind Thorgan Hazard.