Two goals in the first half lifted Italy past Belgium, 2-1, on Friday and into the Euro 2020 semifinals, where they'll face Spain. The in-form Italians were able to hold on late to bounce Kevin De Bruyne and company, moving within one victory away from reaching the final for the fourth time in European Championship history.
It was Nicolo Barella that put Italy up 31 minutes as the Belgium defense fell asleep, with the backline repeating that 13 minutes later while letting Insigne beat Thibaut Courtois from outside the box. With a De Bruyne that wasn't 100 percent fit and an absent Eden Hazard due to injury, Belgium, the No. 1 ranked team in the world by FIFA, had their chances. A late penalty kick in the first half from Romelu Lukaku brought the Red Devils within a goal, but they could not find the equalizer in the second half despite having the chances as the golden generation once again failed to deliver on a big stage.
Italy finished the day putting just three of their 14 shots on goal, but they did enough in the end to make the semis for the first time since time since 2012, though it wasn't all good news. Roma defender Leonardo Spinazzola, who has been a huge contributor for the team during their run, tore his Achilles tendon and will be sidelined for a lengthy period, Sky Sport Italia reported after the match.
Three takeaways from an entertaining night at Alianz Arena in Munich.
1. De Bruyne appeared nowhere near fit
Just like Manchester City, Belgium can be pretty average when their superstar is not at 100 percent. After coming off against Portugal in the round of 16, De Bruyne looked nowhere near fit. He still had some moments, some clever passes and was able to win free kicks, but he only had one really good look on goal, which came in the first half and was saved well by Gianluigi Donnarumma. You can make the argument that a 75 percent fit De Bruyne is better than somebody else on the squad, but he wasn't close to imposing his will and taking over a game like we have often seen. It was going to take somebody else stepping up, and despite moments from Lukaku and Jeremy Doku, they were simply too wasteful in the end.
2. Insigne steps up on a poor day for Immobile
After being nothing more than a backup at Euro 2016 with Italy, veteran Lorenzo Insigne made the most of his chance this time around. He stepped up in a huge spot when striker Ciro Immobile struggled. The winning goal from the Napoli veteran came off a fine run from the midfield, though it could have been defended better (more on that below). After making Youri Tielemans miss, he approached the box and sent this curling effort into the back of the net.
Perhaps the most memorable goal of his fine career, putting his team on the brink of a spot in the Euro 2020 final.
3. Red Devils defense made it too easy
For all the brilliant midfielders and attackers Belgium have, the defense can be fright night. When your main center-back, the one leading the backline, is an inconsistent 35-year-old veteran playing in the Japanese league, you already have issues.
Thomas Vermaelen has long been a liability and Jan Vertonghen isn't much better. While they have some formidable players at the back, it's by far the team's weakest unit, and that was evident on Friday night. If you look at the first goal, the team was slow to react, didn't keep track of Barella and paid dearly for it. But the second goal was the most alarming, as they failed to put even a tad of pressure on Insigne. If you watch the replay again, you'll see Tielemans hounding the defense after the goal, wondering why they did not close down. It's poor performances by defenders that might be past their prime, and surely manager Roberto Martinez would have instructed them to close down, as Insigne always seems to look for that far-post curler.
As has been the case for a while now, Belgium on paper look great, but they are a complete backline of defenders away from being true contenders.