Italy step up on big occasion to prove Euro 2020 doubters wrong


ROME – Italy‘s detractors are running out of reasons to doubt their ability to win Euro 2020 after Friday’s triumph over Belgium.

The Azzurri‘s record unbeaten run has been well documented during the tournament, and it stretched to 32 matches in Munich on Friday.

But the fact that Roberto Mancini‘s side had not beaten any recognised international football powerhouses during that streak, which stretches back to September 2018, encouraged some pundits to raise questions about their ability to go far in the competition.

After Italy recorded back-to-back 3-0 wins against Turkey and Switzerland at the start of the Euros, former France midfielder Patrick Vieira said: “They lack intensity, power, pace, to be even more dangerous going forward… It’s still a bit too early to take Italy into consideration, that they can go to the end.”

Former England defender Gary Neville felt similarly, quipping: “I do feel once they start to play against the better teams, they won’t have enough.”

According to world football’s governing body FIFA, there are no better teams than world number one side Belgium, who were considered one of the pre-tournament favourites.

But the Azzurri’s 13th consecutive win was their most impressive yet as they came out on top not just with the final score, but also in terms of possession and shots.

It was a performance that felt like a statement of intent from a nation that has won four World Cups and one European Championship but has had to rebuild its reputation after the humiliating failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

“Belgium beaten – we’re back among the greats of football,” said Gazzetta dello Sport’s front page on Saturday.

“Nights like this tell me that we’re becoming a really good team. We showed solidity, a spirit of sacrifice and that Italian heart. Now we will rest and go again at Wembley. We believe,” said captain Giorgio Chiellini.

The win was marred only by a serious injury to left-back Leonardo Spinazzola, who had to be stretchered off and looks set to play no further part in the tournament.

Italy are now three games away from equalling the all-time international unbeaten record set by Spain between 2007 and 2009 – and it is the Spanish they face next in the semi-final.

If they are to reach that target, they will have to win the Euros for the second time in their history in the process.

It might be harder now to find people who doubt their ability to do just that.