By far the most anticipated match of the Euros 2016 was played on Monday night. Belgium played Italy at Parc Olympique Lyonnais. Belgium a young free flowing side ranked no 2 in the FIFA world ranking were to take on Italy, a team which is full of season players. It was thus a fight between the young and the old.
The Italian league in a way defines how the national team plays. In Serie A you can find players playing well past 35, Totti at 39 has just extended his contract with Roma for another year.
I in fact joked before the match as to who was Italy playing as a striker, counting them totally out and predicting that Belgium with so much talent at disposal will rout Italy. Their old legs would not be able to stand the Belgian pace. Such was my confidence in Belgium’s ability that I in fact took a break from watching only to come back to the disbelief that Italy actually scored in the 32nd minute.
Italy just proved that matches are not won just by teams but by tactics. They may be old but they have the experience of Big tournaments which Belgium lacks and it was on clear display.
It was not only on field but also off field that Belgium was beaten Antonio Conte got the better of Marc Wilmots. The soon to be Chelsea coach just showed his master class to showcase as to why he was the Chosen for the Chelsea job, he beat Belgium convincingly despite having what many may say was a much inferior team. And the win was more of an upset.
The team selection by Belgium
The team selection by Belgium was a bit bizarre and playing Fellaini over Dembele and that too in the no 10 position was something no one expected. Wilmots also did a lot of chopping with defense and in the absence of his captain Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Lombaerts, the pair of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld should have been an automatic first choice given how well they have been playing for Tottenham all season. But he chose Vermaelen and pushed Vertongen to left position, no doubt Vermaelen has the quality of a centre back but for two seasons now he has hardly had enough match time and preferring him over an established pair was going to backfire and it did.
Wilmot in fact seems to have taken a leaf out of Roy Hodgon book when it comes to team selection.
Both managers are blessed with brilliant young teams and in form players but they somehow mess it up big time in selecting the final XI.
Belgium were the first to test the goal when Radja Nainggolan sent in a bouncing shot from 30 yards that forced Gianluigi Buffon to save in the 10th minute but after that Italy got into the groove and frustrated the Belgium side. They took the lead in at the half an hour mark courtesy an inch perfect pass from the half line by Bonucci over the Belgium defence, which Giaccherini controlled superbly taking one touch to settle it before shooting past and in coming Thibaut Courtois 1-0 Azzuri.
It should have been 2-0 had the unmarked Southampton striker Graziano Pelle not wasted an easy opportunity and sent a close range header wide.
In the second half Lukaku was presented with a brilliant opportunity to level the tie on a counter attack only for his shot to beat Italy’s captain as well as the post. Belgium were frustrated by some typical Italy defending shots blocked play broken to which Belgium had no reply they lacked a plan B and whatever little opportunities came their way they were wasted. Italy on the other hand were not only resolute in defending and in the midfield but also in front of the goal forcing Courtois into a number of saves. As the match progressed it became more and more evident about how experience and strategy were having an upper hand over the youth and brilliance.
Italy were more than content with defending, but they managed to grab another one on the 92nd minute when Pelle made up for his early miss by firing home a splendid Volley to make it 2-0.
Belgium tried but they were beaten comprehensively by the old men. The Italian job was a top notch affair which see them top of the group and all of a sudden there is a belief and the world has started to look at Italy as a serious contender. For Belgium it was definitely a learning experience both for the manager as well as the team, one only hopes that they will implement it better next time and come out victorious from the group of Death, if they fail to it will such a shame given the quality at hand.