Advertiser Disclosure

Belgium ousted from Euro 2020 as Italy continue historic run

Belgium ousted from Euro 2020 as Italy continue historic run

In what was one of the most entertaining nights of Euro 2020 this summer, Roberto Mancini’s Italy continued their historic run at the expense of Belgium’s golden generation under Robero Martinez, as Gli Azzurri bested De Rode Duivels 2-1 at Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena.

A sensational solo effort from Nicolò Barella and a second stunner from outside the box by Man of the Match Lorenzo Insigne put Italy 2-0 ahead. Rennes forward Jérémy Doku was brought down in the area late in the first-half by Giovanni Di Lorenzo before hitman Romelu Lukaku slotted down the middle past a diving Gianluigi Donnarumma to make it 2-1.

That scoreline would not change before referee Slavko Vinčić blew for full-time, with Italy’s head-to-head record against Belgium now standing at a dominant 15-4-4. The result was marred by disappointment for Italy, however, following the news that left-back Leonardo Spinazzola – who has been one of the darlings of the national team this summer – ruptured his Achilles tendon and will now miss the remainder of the competition, before spending multiple months on the treatment table.

Italy redemption arch is the talk of the town at Euro 2020

There is not a single football fan that has been following Euro 2020 that is not fully aware of Italy’s incredible stretch of results under Roberto Mancini. Now on an unbeaten run spanning 32-matches, which includes a 13-match winning run dating back to the 11th of November 2020, few would begrudge anyone suggesting that this is the Azzurri’s tournament to lose.

Mancini’s outfit was impressive once more tonight, especially in the first 45-minutes. Their counter-press was on full display from the word go and despite the unexpected inclusion of Kevin De Bruyne in the Belgium XI, the Red Devils struggled to find enough time or space in forward positions to put Italy under any amount of sustained pressure. The 2-0 lead was entirely justified, and the same can be said of the overall result come full-time.

Belgium ousted from Euro 2020 as Italy continue historic run

ROME, ITALY – JUNE 16: Manuel Locatelli of Italy celebrates after scoring his team’s first goal during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Group A match between Italy and Switzerland at Olimpico Stadium on June 16, 2021 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Emmanuele Ciancaglini/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)

The complete nature of how Italy has gone about its business this summer has been the most impressive aspect of their overall performance. Once more, Ciro Immobile was not on the scoresheet after he started the tournament brightly, but his influence was still felt in the final third, and his movement and combination play was vital in both of Italy’s first-half goals. Italy now boasts six different goal-scorers this summer (four of whom sit on 2-goals a piece), and the inability of their opposition to nail down a focal point to defend against has proven to be an excellent blueprint.

Questions will undoubtedly surface regarding how Mancini intends to replace Spinazzola, who has been one of the top performers at Euro 2020 and integral to how Italy has been operating both on and off the ball. Mancini could even turn to a back three deployment if faith in backup left-back Emerson is not on the cards, but given their offerings this summer, an upcoming titanic clash with an ever-improving Spain (head-to-head record; 12-13-11 in favor of La Roja) could easily produce the tournament winner.

Belgium’s golden generation comes up short once again

Before the start of Euro 2020, Belgium boss Roberto Martinez was quoted as saying that success is in how you measure it. In the case of Belgium, given the level of talent that has populated the national pool for the last seven years, you would be hard-pressed to find many that think this crop of players were not good enough to win major international honors, before instead coming up short at every point of asking.

Since the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Belgium has reached the quarterfinals on three occasions, with a semifinal berth at Euro 2016, too. Across four major tournaments for this group, that is hardly anything to turn your nose up at, but there is still a sense that it has not been good enough.

As it stands, seven of Belgium’s top-ten list when it comes to caps (Jan Vertonghen, Axel Witsel, Toby Alderweireld, Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens, Romelu Lukaku, and Thibaut Courtois) are currently making their way home from Munich, with five of them having eclipsed the 100-cap mark. Recently retired Vincent Kompany is also on that list, and was present for three of the nation’s four tournaments mentioned. In addition, the Red Devils’ top-two goalscorers of all-time (Lukaku and Hazard) have both eclipsed the long-standing joint record held by Bernard Voorhoof and Paul Van Himst. Hazard’s 32-goals are impressive for a wide player in less than 100-caps, while Lukaku’s goal return of 63-goals in 97-caps (0.65 goals per game) is likely to never be eclipsed by a compatriot. His goals per game record is also second only to Robert De Veen (1.13).

Belgium ousted from Euro 2020 as Italy continue historic run

Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne and Belgium’s Eden Hazard celebrate after a second game of the group stage (group B) at UEFA Euro 2020 championships between Belgian national soccer team Red Devils and Denmark, in Copenhagen, Denmark, Thursday 17 June 2021. BELGA PHOTO BRUNO FAHY (Photo by BRUNO FAHY/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

This was – is – a group that should have achieved more. Certainly, it should have done more than another talented group from 1980 that included players the likes of Enzo Scifo, Jan Ceulemans, Marc Wilmots, Jean-Marie Pfaff, and Michael Preud’homme. Many of the achievements of the current crop both at club and international level will never be topped. Kevin De Bruyne’s exploits have not even been mentioned here, but can hardly be overstated.

In a period to come that raises questions regarding whether or not Belgium will ever again be able to assemble a group of players as gifted as this, the likes of Jérémy Doku, Yari Verschaeren, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Alexis Saelemaekers, Zinho Vanheusden, Hannes Delcroix and Sebastiaan Bornauw will have a hard time as a follow-up act to a brilliant group that just couldn’t do enough.

This article was edited by Conor Laird.