Italys unlikely EURO 2020

Author : esmeraldacalhounnew
Publish Date : 2021-07-01 13:39:40
Italys unlikely EURO 2020

From a right-back compared to Gabriel Batistuta to "a student who also plays football", Italy's UEFA EURO 2020 heroes have quite the story to tell. Our Azzurri reporter Paolo Menicucci does the honours.

In the lead-up to UEFA EURO 2020, Italy centre-back Leonardo Bonucci made a statement that now sounds prophetic: "Italy's star man is our group, as we don't have outstanding individuals like Cristiano Ronaldo or Romelu Lukaku."

The Azzurri will now face Lukaku – a familiar face in Serie A, of course – in the quarter-finals in Munich on Friday. Italy's band of unlikely heroes are ready to further make their mark on this tournament.

Giovanni Di Lorenzo
Giovanni Di Lorenzo
Giovanni Di Lorenzo
Getty Images
The 27-year-old Napoli right-back has not looked back since replacing the injured Alessandro Florenzi in the opening game against Turkey. Only four years ago, he was still playing in Serie C with Matera. "It's kind of weird thinking back on it," he told "I've had an important journey getting here. I've made a lot of sacrifices. I'm really satisfied now, and I'm enjoying this amazing journey."

A striker when he was growing up in Tuscany, he was nicknamed 'Batigol' after the former Fiorentina striker Gabriel Batistuta. However, he has no special celebrations planned should he find the net at EURO. "I don't know how I will react," he said. "I will live in the moment, but it would be something unique. Let's hope that moment comes soon."

Leonardo Spinazzola
Star of the Match: Spinazzola highlights
The 28-year-old is another late bloomer. A former attacking midfielder, Spinazzola's career changed completely when he started to play as a left-back for Perugia in 2015/16. After two subsequent seasons with Atalanta, he joined Juventus but failed to make an impact and featured only ten times in Serie A for the Bianconeri . A superb 2020/21 campaign with Roma, however, convinced Roberto Mancini that he should be first choice on the left flank.

Two Star of the Match performances later, Spinazzola is now considered one of Mancini's greatest weapons. His threat comes largely thanks to his electric speed – indeed he clocked the fastest sprint of the entire group stage. "If I wasn't fast enough, I wouldn't be playing," he told us with a big smile. "The coach transmits tranquillity and self-esteem to everyone; he includes everyone, even those in the stands. This is our main strength."

Manuel Locatelli
Top Performer: Manuel Locatelli
The Sassuolo midfielder started the first two games only because Marco Verratti was injured, but his performances – including two fantastic goals against Switzerland – were impressive enough to give Mancini a real selection headache.

"There was a lot of work behind this performance," Locatelli said after the Switzerland game. "I am proud, I am part of a fantastic group and I am happy to be here."

The 23-year-old made a very promising start to his career with AC Milan but, after something of a dip, has recently started to shine at Sassuolo, the club he joined in 2018. He only made his senior Italy debut last September but must now be in contention for a start against Belgium.

Matteo Pessina
Skill of the Day: Matteo Pessina (Italy)
The 24-year-old Atalanta midfielder is the biggest surprise of all. He is only here at all because Stefano Sensi was forced to withdraw from the squad with an injury just ahead of the opening game against Turkey. Pessina not only scored the only goal of the game against Wales in the group stage, he also struck Italy's decisive second in the extra-time win against Austria in the last 16.

Pessina, who defines himself as "a student who also plays football", is a lover of art and literature in particular. He admits that he came close to quitting football when struggling down in Serie C back in 2016.

"You have seen what this group is capable of, this team can achieve so much," he told after his goal against Austria. "Fede [Federico Chiesa] and I, who both came off the bench, made the most of the build-up play from the team, and then applied the finish. But we have all been good, from one to 11; that's the strength of our team."

When Pessina was asked to compare this national team to a famous painting, he opted for Vincent van Gogh's 'Almond Blossom.' These Azzurri heroes are certainly beginning to come into full flower.

Substitutes Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina sent Italy into the last eight with extra-time strikes.

Federico Chiesa celebrates his breakthrough for Italy
Federico Chiesa celebrates his breakthrough for Italy
POOL/AFP via Getty Images
Italy progressed to the quarter-finals at the expense of a brave Austria side thanks to extra-time goals by substitutes Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina at Wembley Stadium.

Match in brief
Matteo Pessina drives in Italy's second goal
Matteo Pessina drives in Italy's second goal
Getty Images
Italy, aiming for a national-record 31 games unbeaten, started the brighter with the impressive Leonardo Spinazzola setting up the first presentable chance for Nicolò Barella, whose drive was kept out by Daniel Bachmann's outstretched boot. Marko Arnautović fired over as Austria offered a counterattacking threat but the Azzurri went closest before the interval when Ciro Immobile's long-range rocket clattered the post.

Roberto Mancini's side were less fluent in the second half and could have fallen behind twice, first when Marcel Sabitzer's effort deflected just wide and then when Arnautović's fine header was ruled out for offside.

The Azzurri made the most of that let-off, albeit in extra time, when Chiesa prodded Spinazzola's cross back past Konrad Laimer and rifled his finish across Bachmann. Fellow replacement Pessina then pounced following a goalmouth scramble to rifle in the second and that proved decisive after Austrian sub Sasa Kalajdzic's clever header from a corner set up a tense finale.

Star of the Match: Leonardo Spinazzola (Italy)
Star of the Match: Spinazzola highlights
"He had a very good first half and was always a threat down the left side. He showed good link-up play with Lorenzo Insigne, great awareness to play the pass for the first goal and a great crossfield pass to set up the cross for the second."
Packie Bonner, UEFA Technical Observer

Check out every Heineken Star of the Match at UEFA EURO 2020.

Paolo Menicucci‏, Italy reporter
Roberto Mancini continues to stress how there are 26 first-choice players in this team and the substitutes proved him right once again, making the difference when it was most needed. Italy were on the verge of a knockout in the second half against a very good Austria but found the necessary fresh energy from the bench. Italy will need more against the likes of Romelu Lukaku or Cristiano Ronaldo in the quarter-finals, but tonight's lesson could be important for the Azzurri.

Jordan Maciel‏, Austria reporter
A bittersweet outing at Wembley but Austria exit the competition with their heads held high. For 120 minutes, they went toe to toe with the stand-out team of the tournament and had their fans dreaming of the impossible. In the end, only Italy's immense squad depth could separate the two sides, but that's no slight on Franco Foda's squad. Chapeau, Burschen!

Ciro Immobile reacts after hitting the post for Italy
Ciro Immobile reacts after hitting the post for Italy
Getty Images
Matteo Pessina, Italy midfielder: "I am still trying to take in my goal against Wales, so imagine how this one feels. I will remember it for the rest of my career. In this team everybody can score and this is our main strength – we are a great group."

Leonardo Spinazzola, Italy defender: "I'm happy with the victory – I think we played as a real team tonight. We defended all together when we needed to. After 90 minutes, we said that we just had to improve the quality of the final passes and finally the goals arrived in extra time."

David Alaba, Austria captain: "It's not easy to put that into words. We can be proud of ourselves, Austria can be proud of us. We gave everything but in the end we weren't rewarded for our performance. That's really tough to take."

Sasa Kalajdzic, Austria forward: "I think the whole of Austria can be proud of this team. It came down to small things that decided the game. My goal was great – I don't think my head has ever been so close to the ground."

Key stats
Austria retrieve the ball after Sasa Kalajdzic pulls a goal back
Austria retrieve the ball after Sasa Kalajdzic pulls a goal back
POOL/AFP via Getty Images
Chiesa joins his dad, Enrico, in scoring at a EURO finals. His father scored against the Czech Republic at EURO '96.
Pessina has now scored four goals in his last four appearances for Italy.
Pessina's goal was the 100th scored at EURO 2020.
Italy have conceded just two first-half goals in their last 18 EURO final tournament matches.
Italy have scored nine goals in four games at EURO 2020, matching their previous highest total at a EURO of nine in 2000.
This was the eighth time Italy have gone to extra time in a EURO finals match – more than any other side in the history of the competition. It was the first occasion for Austria.
This was Austria's first EURO knockout phase match. Their last one at any major international tournament was at the 1954 World Cup.
Kalajdzic's goal ended Italy's run of 11 international matches without conceding.
Italy: Donnarumma; Di Lorenzo, Bonucci, Acerbi, Spinazzola; Barella (Pessina 67), Jorginho, Verratti (Locatelli 67); Berardi (Chiesa 84), Immobile (Belotti 84), Insigne (Cristante 108)

Austria: Bachmann; Lainer (Trimmel 114), Dragović, Hinteregger, Alaba; Laimer (Ilsanker 114), Grillitsch (Schaub 106), X. Schlager (Gregoritsch 106); Sabitzer, Baumgartner (Schöpf 90); Arnautović (Kalajdzic 97)

Category : sports

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