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Four years ago at the Olimpiyskyiy National Sports Complex in Kiev, Ukraine marked one of the most forgettable days for Italian football. Italy not only suffered a defeat, but endured the humiliation of a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Spain in the 2012 European Final: the heaviest defeat of any final in the competition.
However, their showing in their opening match of this year’s edition was in stark contrast of a team bruised and battered four years ago.
Although the squad has evolved and progressed under Antonio Conte, critics of the game have hit the Azzurri with endless ammo over their supposed lack of technical ability: an overriding quality that propelled them to glory in the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany.
Having already been ruled out of the illustrious list of favorites to win the competition even before a ball was kicked, Italy proved that they were not just there to make up the numbers by instilling a 2-0 defeat to Belgium: the most gifted, star studded team in the competition.
The Italians may have overdone their celebrations at the final whistle, but who would blame them considering their vilification was simply because they aren’t as good as their best team in history?
As such, here are three key observations from Italy’s 2-0 win over Belgium.
Triumph of technique
The victory was a masterstroke by the soon-to-be-Chelsea boss Antonio Conte. Belgium not only had the lion’s share of the possession for most of the match, but nearly twice as many chances at their opponents: but it was the Azzurri that were more clinical with ruthless, metronomic efficiency on the counter.
With both teams having Premier League players on the pitch, it was the Italians that carried the day through Sunderland’s Emanuele Giaccherini and Southampton’s Griziano Pelle who scored a goal apiece in both halves.
Giaccherini sent the leather home from close range after collecting a sublime long ball from Leonardo Bonucci, sending the Italians into utter delirium.
Pelle was on the finishing end of an incisive counter attack that put the result beyond reach for the Belgium Red Devils deep into injury time.
Chelsea supporters must certainly be licking their lips at the prospect of having Antonio Conte at Stamford Bridge next season.
On paper Belgium is quite rightly the most star studded team in the tournament: But much like The Expendables [Movie], a set swarming with star names doesn’t exactly guarantee an epic showing.
Belgium may have had the dream team, but the tale written was to be one of team work over individual brilliance. Despite having a frontline of Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, nothing came of any of their endeavors.
Lukaku seemed a shadow of his former self while pundits are still trying to figure out how Divok Origi managed to perform worse than Lukaku when he came off…they were that bad. Whether they bounce back from the defeat however remains to be seen.
Dark horses of the tournament
Italy are not exactly minions in the tournament, but neither are they top dogs either.
Be that as it may, their brilliant teamwork and tactical triumph could see them through as the dark horses of the competition who could go all the way the final, and possibly win it.
Written by Brian Humphrey
Follow Brian on Twitter @brihum
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