Italy booked a place in the Euro 2020 semi finals with a magnificent 2-1 victory over Belgium in a high-calibre showdown in Munich.
Roberto Mancini’s men will now meet Spain at Wembley in the last four on Tuesday night after making it 13 wins in a row and stretching their unbeaten run to 32 matches.
The Azzurri had an early goal ruled out for offside by VAR but grabbed the initiative just past the half hour when Nicolo Barella twinkle-toed his way into space in the box before rifling a low effort into the far corner.
MUNICH, GERMANY - JULY 02: Nicolo Barella of Italy celebrates after scoring their side's first goal during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Quarter-final match between Belgium and Italy at Football Arena Munich on July 02, 2021 in Munich, Germany
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Italy doubled their lead on 44 minutes when Lorenzo Insigne curled a quite wonderful shot beyond the reach of Thibaut Courtois after jinking in from the left flank.
Belgium looked to be on the rack but were handed a lifeline in first-half stoppage time when Giovanni Di Lorenzo fouled Jeremy Doku, allowing Romelu Lukaku to step up to the penalty spot and fire home his fourth goal of the tournament.
Kevin de Bruyne, who had been an injury doubt before the game, tried to inspire a recovery along with the excellent Doku, but the Red Devils could not unlock the Italians as they fell to just their second loss in the last 28 games.
Roberto Martinez’s golden generation will now have to deal with the failure of not living up to their billing once again, while the Italians continue to impress as an emerging force but will lament a late injury to the impressive Leonardo Spinazzola.
Statement win makes Italy major contenders. Back in 2018 Italy failed to reach the World Cup finals and the nation was almost in mourning at seeing the four-time winners in such a mess. Cue the arrival of Mancini who has overseen a dramatic and quite brilliant transformation.
A perfect qualifying campaign for the Euros raised expectation in Italy with the hope being they could make it to the latter stages. That mission has been accomplished, but this is very much a statement win now. No longer are they the dark horses in this tournament, they are very much major contenders for this title.
Italy's midfielder Nicolo Barella celebrates with teammates after scoring the team's first goal during the UEFA EURO 2020 quarter-final football match between Belgium and Italy at the Allianz Arena in Munich on July 2, 2021
Image credit: Getty Images
Mancini has cultivated a well-oiled machine, each cog fully content with the role they play within a swashbuckling yet solid system. This win over the much-fancied Belgium will be toasted throughout the weekend in their homeland but the injury to Spinazzola could be a significant problem if it rules him out from this point on as the Roma man was proving to be one of the stars of the tournament.
As for Belgium, they once again come up short when it matters most. Yes, Eden Hazard was ruled out injured but Martinez has such a wealth of talent at his disposal that they should have created more on the night. This will surely be the end for some of the ageing members of the squad but there is hope for the future with the likes of Doku offering a glimpse that they could still have an exciting future.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Lorenzo Insigne (Italy). The Napoli star produced a moment of magic that proved to be the match-winning moment and was particularly dangerous cutting in from the left in the first period. Combined well with Spinazzola and almost grabbed another goal after the interval as Italy continued to probe for a third.
MUNICH, GERMANY - JULY 02: Lorenzo Insigne of Italy celebrates after scoring their side's second goal during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Quarter-final match between Belgium and Italy at Football Arena Munich on July 02, 2021 in Munich, Germany
13’ – ITALY GOAL CHALKED OFF BY VAR! Insigne whips a free kick in from the right and it's bundled home by Bonucci. VAR checks and there's an offside in there. Still 0-0.
23’ – BELGIUM CHANCE! Donnarumma flings himself to his right to tip away de Bruyne's sizzling 25-yard strike.
31’ - GOAL! – Belgium 0-1 Italy. Verratti picks up the ball from a poor Belgium clearance and feeds Barella inside the box on the right. He faces two defenders but manages to wriggle away and rifle a low shot into the corner.
44’ - GOAL! – Belgium 0-2 Italy. Insigne cuts in from the left and surges forward before curling a wonderful shot beyond the reach of Courtois and into the far corner.
45+2’ - GOAL! – Belgium 1-2 Italy. Lukaku reduces the arrears as he rifles his spot kick down the middle with Donnarumma diving to his right. The penalty was awarded after Di Lorenzo shoved Doku as he charged towards the byline.
61’ – BELGIUM CHANCE! Belgium should be level. Spinazzola somehow gets his leg in the way to deny Lukaku a tap-in at the far post after Doku and de Bruyne had carved Italy open on the left.
84’ – BELGIUM CHANCE! Doku charges in from the left, jinks past a challenge but sizzles a shot from 22 yards out just over the top. He's been excellent tonight.
Including the qualifying rounds, Italy have won each of their last 15 European Championship matches - a new competition record. Belgium themselves had won 14 consecutive matches before today's defeat.
Lukaku's penalty means that no Belgian player has scored more goals than him at either the European Championships (five, level with Marc Wilmots) or the World Cup (six).
Doku was the first teenager to win a penalty in a European Championship match since Wayne Rooney v France for England in 2004.