Football

Italian Football Was Its Most Glorious, Shithousing Self Tonight

Italian Football Was Its Most Glorious, Shithousing Self Tonight

Belgium and Italy played out one of the most memorable tournament games of recent years at EURO 2020 on Friday, in a match that will surely go down as an all-time classic. Belgium brought plenty to the table, but this was Italy's night, and they laid down a sensational, sparkling (and cynical) claim to the throne of "favourites" for the Euros crown.

These were two teams that have been praised throughout this tournament for playing football the right way - with high energy and an attacking mindframe. So, hopes were high for this match which, if we're honest, would have made a cracking final.

De Bruyne. Lukaku. Chiellini. Insigne. Donnarumma. Courtois. There were stars all over the pitch and they were all on it. Belgium continued their brand of expansive football, with Lukaku going close on two occasions in the first half, and de Bruyne pulling the strings in midfield.

It was Italy, though, who drew first blood, with Nicolo Barella's clinical finish bang on half an hour giving Italy a 1-0 lead.

The calm and clinical finish wasn't even the best part of Barella's goal - it was the miraculous healing effect it appeared to have on Torino's Ciro Immobile. Lying in a prone position in the box, with what looked like it must surely be a game-ending injury, Immobile appeared to be fully healed by Barella's goal, as he immediately rose to his feet and joined the celebrations.

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If Barella's goal was good, the goal that made it 2-0 was even better.

It will be hard to beat Patrick Schick's stunner against Scotland when it comes to selecting a goal of the tournament. But, as though this game wasn't already filled with high-quality play, Lorenzo Insigne gave us a serious pretender to the crown.

Insigne found some space and decided to let fly from 25 yards. The result was a simply stunning curler that Thibaut Courtois didn't even have a chance of stopping.

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We had feared this was going to be that kind of big game that leaves you longing for that one missing element. A game that never comes to life, that's lacking characters or storylines or high quality football. This was a game that had all of that, in spades.

And, if that wasn't enough, it had the return of a classic chant from Euro 2016 - the only issue being that it belonged to neither Belgium nor Italy, but Wales.

There was even more drama to come at the end of the first half.

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Belgium won a contentious penalty after Jeremy Doku went down quite easily under the challenge of Giovanni di Lorenzo - though replays did show the Italian had perhaps extended an arm to push Doku. Romelu Lukaku coolly converted for his fourth goal of the tournament, and the stage was set for a tense and thrilling second half.

The second half wasn't quite filled with the same expansive, flowing football of the first half, but Italy were certainly enjoying themselves on the pitch and they had large spells of comfortable possession. Belgium responding in turn with the best chance of the second half, with Romelu Lukaku hitting the post from just yards out.

The highlight of the second half, though, was Italy's defensive effort.

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We watch games at the biggest tournaments to see the best players play, and it can sometimes be forgotten that that includes the world's best defenders. Italy's back four certainly put in a world-class performance in Munich on Friday night, with full-backs di Lorenzo and Leonardo Spinazzola having particularly excellent games.

RTÉ pundit Richie Sadlier was one of the many who loved veteran centre back Chiellini's reaction to a goal-saving clearance. A huge effort was required from the Italians at the back, and Chiellini's reaction showed just how much it meant to them.

The match took its toll on both Italy and Belgium. Spinazzola, after an immense shift, was forced off on the stretcher, while Belgium's Nacer Chadli had to go off mere minutes after coming on.

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But this was not only an Italian performance of beauty. It had all of the less beautiful, more cynical elements that you need to get over the line in a big tournament game. Domenico Berardi was...well, a lot closer than 10 yards from Kevin de Bruyne when he took a late free-kick, in a shameless act of timewasting.

As well as that, goalkeeper Donnarumma had a similarly miraculous recovery as Immobile. He went down after a heavy challenge from Vertonghen, clutching his hand and appearing to be in serious pain - before seeing out the game and celebrating hard with his Italian teammates at the final whistle.

This was a game that took everything from the players. It had the best players in the world at the top of their games, in a game of end-to-end, nail-biting football. And, it had some of the best shithousery we've seen in years. This EUROs may have gotten off to a stuttering start, but Belgium v Italy was just the latest in a series of stunning knockout games.

Just as well we have the tie of the round to come between England and Ukraine...

SEE ALSO: Roy Keane Rubbishes Claims England Should Rest Players Against Ukraine

Eoin Harrington

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