The 2nd Quarter Final saw Roberto Mancini’s high flying Italy face Franco Foda’s Austria– with the latter firm underdogs. Italy had gone 30 games unbeaten before this- setting an international record. What’s even more impressive is their 11 clean sheets & 1000 minutes without conceding a goal- an astounding statistic which showcases Italy’s quality.
Going in as distinct underdogs could have been beneficial for Austria, however, as a lot of pressure will be on Italy to perform- whereas many have already written Austria off. The Austrians won 2/3 from their group, scoring 4 & conceding 3 with tough opponents such as the Netherlands. On the other side, Italy won all 3 quite convincingly- scoring 7 & conceding 0, although their opposition was hardly threatening.
Italy hadn’t got to this situation by sitting back, much the opposite. The Azzurri’s have been a dominant side, lining up in a 433, with a Jorginho – Verratti – Barella base. The passing range of Jorginho to recycle play, the tenacity of Verratti & the all round game for Barella has enabled for a really well balanced team- with the former of the three sitting deep, and Barella & Verratti more freedom to be inventive. The fullbacks in the system are very direct & are given the opportunity to roam forward.
Italy are a brilliant pressing side. Aggressive, relentless & passionate- the best 3 words to describe them. Pressing the ball carrier and the open spaces leaves oppositions suffocated, with nowhere to go. This helps their defensive game to always be in control of the situation.
Austria, on the other hand, are very direct. A major aerial threat, they play a 4231 most of the time- in a very solid deep block defensively. Austria also have a big pressing side to their game, with Konrad Laimer of Leipzig & Schlager being complete workhorses. With the technical ability of Arnautovic, the versatility and quality of Alaba & Sabitzer, Austria are a reasonably strong side.
With Verratti available again, he comes straight back into the XI- replacing the impressive Locatelli. Di Lorenzo & the impressive Spinazolla play in the wingback roles- with Acerbi starting in place of the injured Chiellini alongside Bonucci.
Austria deploy Arnautovic to lead the line & the ever present Sabitzer & Alaba, who have impressed so far, feature.
First Half Overview
Italy had the better of the first half, dominating most of the play. Immobile hit the bar from range, a few corners, many crosses and blocked shots- but ultimately they remained frustrated. Austria looked compact & hard to break down, even bypassing Italy a bit too easily at times to get countering opportunities. The chances were there, but the final ball execution really was a let down.
Spinazolla looked like a brilliant asset just as he was in the group stage- direct, quick, two-footed and linking up well with Insigne. More physical presence could’ve been useful for the midfield as Austria were transitioning out of the Italians press with ease. A fairly even half was the end product from both sides having been a very frustrating watch.
Second Half Overview
From the 1st half, you would have anticipated Italy to continue their high chance creation and eventually forge a great goal scoring chance. Austria, instead, used their first half belief & momentum and largely dominated the 2nd half. An Alaba flick on found Arnautovic to effectively score a header, but he was deemed to just be offside- a lucky escape for the Italians.
Austria asserted their dominance, controlling the play, keeping sustained pressure & making it really hard for Italy to get out. Whenever Italy had a chance to break out, the front 3 were unable to be pragmatic in the final third. Berardi’s urge to cut on to his left at all times left him very easy to defend, and his end product if not was very off. Insigne’s high productive game was also very frustrating to watch, as nothing came off and so many attacks went to waste.
Mancini made some very perculiar substitutes- taking off Verratti which lost the Azzurri’s control, and Barella which reduced the offensive threat. It’s clear Chiesa is a real difference maker, so the fact he only came on in the 83rd minute- considering how poorly both wingers played- was strange.
Austria’s aerial threat only became more of an issue- as Kalajdzic (at and unbelievable 6’7″) came on, making long balls incredibly hard to stop.
A very frustrating watch- a cagey one with a distinct lack of quality in the final third.
Extra Time Overview
Italy looked rejuvenated – controlling the first 15 entirely. There was major relief when Spinazolla’s cross to the back post was superbly controlled and volleyed by substitute Chiesa – who has already proved his worth was a small cameo and a vital goal. Relief for the Azzuri’s.
Italy doubled their lead after Insigne played a delightful flat ball into the feet of Andrea Belotti, who held the ball up well to eventually find Atalanta’s Matteo Pessina who kept his cool and slammed it past Watford’s number 1, Daniel Bachmann. There was major relief as 2 substitutes combined to score a lovely goal and one which sent Italy to the Quarter’s.
Austria’s do or die, won’t give up attitude wasn’t to be beaten so easily. Donnaruma made a brilliant save from range where soon after Kalajdzic scored from a corner to give the Austrians hope. A phenomenal effort, which just fell short as Italy scraped through to face Belgium in the next round.
A mouth-watering 30 minutes, nail biting stuff as the Austrian’s battled. Italy could’ve scored again on the counter but ultimately the quality just shone through.
Man Of The Match
Leonardo Spinazolla received a well earned MOTM. The inverted fullback has had a sensational tournament so far. His directness and overloading in combination with insigne has been a real issue for opponents and this match was no different. His stamina was key, his engine was superb & his defensive game was also very impressive- specifically his last ditch tackle to prevent an Austria goal. A brilliant performance once again as the Roma man continues to impress- adding another assist from Chiesa’s goal.
Austria fought admirably. To a man they were sensational. Hinteregger had an inspired performance, while Schlager & Laimer covered an astonishing amount of ground. A valiant effort from all involved in Red colours, but those are my three shouts.
What next for Italy?
Italy will face one Belgium in the next round. They showed vulnerabilities defensively against Austria, which could be capitalised from by the likes of Romelu Lukaku or Thorgan Hazard. However, there won’t be as much pressure to perform as there was today, as some may view Italy as the underdogs when they play the Red Devils.
Austria are a very resolute and tough team to play- in many ways the worst type of team- so Italy may see this win as overcoming a mental block; beating a physically brilliant team who were fearless, effective and very direct- even bypassing extra time. Positive signs for Italy, as they endured and prevailed a ‘get through at all costs’ type of game. Italy were far from their best, but still managed to grind out the win.
A team with a brilliant attitude and amazing amounts of passion & togetherness- an underrated aspect which arguably dragged them through the game along with the quality, making them well equipped for any team.
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