Italy needed extra time to beat Austria at Wembley Stadium to book their place in the quarter-finals of the Euro 2020 on Saturday evening.
With Denmark beating Wales in a resounding 4-0 drubbing earlier in the evening to book their place in the quarter-finals, Austria and Italy arrived at Wembley hoping to join the Scandinavians in the next round.
Italy came into the game having scored 32 since they had last conceded a goal, and were looking to add to their record-equalling 30 games unbeaten. This win means that they have now gone 31 games unbeaten, a record for the Azzurri. The record stood since 1939, epitomising the success that Roberto Mancini has discovered within this Italian side since taking the helm in 2018.
This last-16 tie was also the first time Austria had played a knockout game in tournament football since 1954, and they entered the game with the knowledge that a win would ensure them legend status in their home nation. Italy, meanwhile, failed to display the form they thoroughly impressed with in the three group matches.
Austria started the game brightly, creating a crossing opportunity within the first minute. Arnautovic, somewhat characteristically, picked up a yellow card almost immediately though. The opening exchanges saw Austria display their best football at Euro 2020. Playing talisman David Alaba in his natural left-back position, rather than shoehorning him into midfield or a sweeper role, certainly helped.
Spinazzola, a driving force from left-back, started well for Italy, gaining yards up the pitch and creating a shooting chance of his own. Indeed, it was a Spinazzola run down the left flank that created the first clear cut chance of the game, as he cut back into the 18-yard box for Nicolo Barrela to fire straight at Daniel Bachmann in Austria’s goal. The left-back seemed Italy’s best attacking outlet all game.
The highlight of the first-half came on the half-hour mark, when Immobile produced a near-wonder strike from 30-yards out. Picking the ball up inside the attacking half, no Austria player closed the Lazio striker down. Having scored in his last five starts for Italy, he struck a sublime effort that dipped and swerved, kissing the post on the way through before ending up on the wrong side of the post. Bachmann in goal could only watch and pray.
Italy looked sloppy at the beginning of the second-half, giving Austria the confidence that they could keep the Azzurri at bay and capitalise on the counter.
On the 65th minute, Marko Arnautovic scored an expertly worked Austria goal that had David Alaba head across for the ex-Stoke and West Ham United man to head home, with the ball going in off the bar. Inevitably though, VAR intervened, and the goal was ruled offside. Heartbreak for the Austrians, who could well have caused a huge upset in Euro 2020.
Regardless, this didn’t deter Austria. They came back stronger, while Italy’s lack of attacking impetus failed to improve. Surprisingly, Austria’s attacking play was actually the better of the two teams as the game headed into the final quarter of an hour. Referee Anthony Taylor’s final whistle ended Austria’s momentum though, who looked flat out on their feet in extra-time.
Federico Chiesa broke the deadlock early on in extra-time for Italy. Spinazzola, Italy’s best player by far, played Chiesa in with a brilliant pass into the box. The winger then cut back onto his left foot before dispatching the ball directly into the net with a clean left footed strike. Sending Mancini and his men delirious, Austria desperately needed to find a second wind to fight back.
That wasn’t to come though, as Pessina delivered Austria’s knockout blow later in the first-half of extra-time, picking the ball up in the box and calmly firing into the bottom corner. After his goal against Wales in the final group match, Pessina has now scored in successive games for Italy.
With six minutes left to play, Austria had other ideas though. Kalajdzic scored a diving header from a corner which Donnarumma could do little about in Italy’s goal. Naturally, Italy seemed nervy for the end of the match, while Austria piled the pressure on with the big men up top.
An inspired performance throughout by Austria, their last ditch efforts were to little avail. An ugly win for the 1968 European Championship winners, this could prove a pivotal result in their hopes for Euro 2020 glory.
Italy will progress to the quarter-finals to face either Belgium or Portugal, with that fixture set to be decided on Sunday night at 8pm BST in Seville. The quarter-final game will be played in Munich at 8pm BST on Friday 2 July.
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