Italy reached the Euro 2020 semi-finals with a thrilling 2-1 win over Belgium as first-half goals from Nicolo Barella and Lorenzo Insigne settled a gripping encounter against the number one-ranked team in the world on Friday.
Barella fired the opener after 31 minutes before Insigne’s wonderful curling strike doubled Italy’s advantage on the brink of halftime.
Romelu Lukaku pulled one back for Belgium in first-half stoppage time with a penalty but neither side could find another goal and Roberto Mancini’s exciting side held on for a 13th straight win, extending their record unbeaten run to 32 games.
“I don’t think we suffered too much at any moment of the game. To beat a team like Belgium, you need a great performance from everybody and that’s exactly what happened today,” Mancini said.
Italy will face Spain at Wembley on Tuesday for a place in the final after setting another record by winning 15 consecutive games including European Championship qualifiers and the finals.
Luis Enrique’s Spain side squeezed past Switzerland 3-1 in a penalty shootout earlier on Friday after their battling opponents clung to a 1-1 draw after extra time despite going down to 10 men.
“We didn’t have a minimum goal, we wanted to do our best. The road is still long, there are two games to go, we will see what happens,” Mancini said.
“Spain? Let’s enjoy this victory, then we’ll think about it. Congratulations to my boys, they were very good.”
It was another disappointment for a talented Belgium squad lauded as a ‘golden generation’, but who have failed to win any trophies or reach a final at a major tournament.
“I think we tried everything to win this match. They scored a fantastic goal, but the first one may have been a mistake on our part,” said Belgium midfielder Kevin de Bruyne.
“They had more possession and the ball didn’t go in for us, which is a shame. Getting eliminated is always a disappointment.”
Italy started strongly when Leonardo Bonucci bundled the ball into the net after 13 minutes from a free-kick, but his celebrations were cut short when it was ruled out for offside.
Italy’s Gianluigi Donnarumma then produced a superb one-handed save to deny De Bruyne, who was fit enough to start after picking up an injury in Belgium’s last game, before the goalkeeper tipped a Lukaku effort wide.
The Azzurri went in front when Barella lashed a shot into the bottom corner of the net after holding off two defenders in the box. It was Italy’s 10th goal of the tournament, their most at a European Championship.
Italy looked set to end the half on a high when Insigne’s outstanding curler from the edge of the area doubled their lead.
But Belgium cut the deficit three minutes later when Giovanni Di Lorenzo barged over Jeremy Doku in the box and the referee pointed to the spot, much to the dismay of the Italians, before Lukaku converted from 12 yards.
Leonardo Spinazzola performed a superb goal-line clearance to deny Lukaku an equaliser after the break, but the impressive Italy left-back’s night ended in tears when he was carried off on a stretcher.
“We are really sorry for the injury to Spina, he is having a great tournament, one of the best in the tournament, we are really sad for it,” Mancini said.
The lively Doku caused problems for the Azzurri defence all night and threatened a late equaliser when he cut in from the wing to lash a shot at goal, but it flew inches over the bar leaving the Italians to celebrate a famous victory.