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REPORT: Italy 2-1 Belgium – goals, highlights, key takeaways and more



European champions Italy secured third place in the UEFA Nations League thanks to goals from Nicolo Barella and Dominico Berardi. Charles de Ketelaere retired late for Belgium, but Roberto Mancini’s side clung to victory.

The game started at a good pace, with both teams developing good chances in the first 45. Italy found great joy in the wings when they were able to isolate Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen in the canals. The pace of a young Italian team with a few fringe players looking to prove themselves was a problem for Roberto Martinez’s men.

However, Belgium grew into the game and came closest to scoring when Alexis Saelemaekers hit the bar from outside the box. Yannick Carrasco looked particularly sharp, like in the semi-finals against France on Thursday. The Red Devils, however, owed their goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois who made several saves to keep them in the game.

Courtois, however, was helpless in the second half when Nicolo Barella scored the goal just two minutes after the break. Belgium cleared a corner halfway to the edge of the box, where Barella volleyed with technical perfection to hit the lower left corner of the goal. Italy had it easy when Belgium pushed for an equalizer that left space behind.

A similar counterattack brought Italy second when Chiesa won a penalty kicked into the net by Berardi despite Courtois having a good hand. Martinez responded by throwing Charles de Ketelaere and Kevin De Bruyne, and both substitutes scored in the 86th minute when the latter played through the legs of Italy goalkeeper Gigi Donnarumma.

It was not too late for Belgium, however, as they could not build up any more pressure in the last few minutes. Here are our key takeaways from the game –

THE CHIESA SHOW

Federico Chiesa has been one of the best improved players in Europe for the last 18 months and he was in full swing on Sunday. He caused problems for the Belgian defense from the start, Alderweireld blocked well in the second minute. That was only a omen for the future as he continued to have a lot of joy on the left.

The Juventus man was the link between midfield and attack for Italy, especially with Berardi. Chiesa should have scored the goal shortly before the break after playing through with a simple long ball from behind, but an exceptional parade from Courtois failed in the Belgian goal.

The winger was back on the ball in the second half and played a crucial role in Italy’s runner-up. Chiesa was 1v1 against Timothy Castagne and easily beat the defender before being knocked down, earning the Azzurri the penalty, confidently sent by Berardi.

GOALKEEPER SHINY

Gigi Donnarumma and Thibaut Courtois had different club seasons, but both showed on Sunday why they are among the best goalkeepers in the world. Donnarumma hasn’t cemented a starting spot since joining PSG, but he made two sharp rescues against Alderweireld, which proved crucial in Italy’s bronze medal win.

Courtois, on the other hand, was in exceptional form for Real Madrid and continued that run for Belgium, making important saves in the first half. He must be disappointed that he didn’t stop the Berardi penalty after guessing right and contributing to it, but such is the life of a goalkeeper that he ends up on the losing side even on no-mistake days.

SUM OF PARTS

The game highlighted the differences in approach and training between the two teams, with Italy looking much more organized and structured and reaping the rewards. Belgium were weak in the first half but look a lot sharper after the changes in the second period. Italy was simply more than the sum of its parts, while Belgium continues to rely on individual brilliance.

Kevin De Bruyne and in shape de Ketelaere have improved the Red Devils a lot, but for a team of this quality they should do better. With the World Cup in Qatar in just over a year, it is clear which side of the two is on the rise and which side needs to change.



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