‘Italy less than perfect, but Mancini’s side dig deep’

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June 28, 2021
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    Euro 2020 on the BBC
    Dates: 11 June-11 July. Venues: Amsterdam, Baku, Bucharest, Budapest, Copenhagen, Glasgow, London, Munich, Rome, Seville, St Petersburg. Coverage: Live on BBC TV, BBC Radio 5 Live, iPlayer and the BBC Sport website and app. Click here for more details

    Italy endured their most difficult night of Euro 2020 before beating Austria to reach the last eight – but they dug deep into the old playbook to finally see off such resilient opponents.

    Coach Roberto Mancini is developing a potent mixture of youth and experience that impressed as much as anyone in the group phase, with Turkey, Switzerland and Wales seen off with the minimum of fuss.

    Italy's intensity, work-rate and team ethic elevated them from outside fancy to potential winners in the eyes of many observers.

    It has been backed up by a stellar sequence that has reached a new national record of 31 games unbeaten following this 2-1 win after extra time.

    This was a real battle, Italy surviving a scare when Marko Arnautovic thought he had headed Austria in front in the second half only for VAR to intervene on an offside, but in the end Mancini's side found a different way to win, always the sign of a good side.

    This was not the flair we saw in the group games. Indeed, for lengthy spells in the second half this spirited Austria side was on top and clearly sensing a shock, but this was when the traditional Italian mix of quality and durability kicked in.

    And this is why, despite a previously undetected vulnerability being uncovered by Austria – even scoring the first goal Italy have conceded in 19 and a half hours when they threatened a late rally – Mancini's team will provide a tough test for either Belgium or Portugal in the quarter-final.

    Italy were not flowing and there was a period when they were ragged that will give encouragement to any team containing quality on the scale of Belgium, with the likes of Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku, or Portugal and their talisman Cristiano Ronaldo.

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    What they did have was a determination to dig deep, overcome adversity and emerge successfully to spark jubilant scenes on the touchline between Mancini and his staff at final whistle.

    The key here, and such a crucial component for any team wanting to prevail at a major tournament, was the quality Mancini was able to introduce off the bench to change the course of this game with Italy under serious pressure for the first time at Euro 2020.

    Mancini brought on Matteo Pessina for Nicolo Barella after 67 minutes and Federico Chiesa for Domenico Berardi with six minutes left of normal time – and both came up with the goals.

    BBC Sport's Alan Shearer said: "Credit to both teams for the energy and quality they showed in a very difficult extra time.

    "We didn't see a way back for Austria at half-time in extra time but to their credit they came back and made it a very nervy ending for the Italians but the changes the Italians made won the game for them in the end."

    And Danny Murphy, who was analysing the game for BBC Sport, added: "Sometimes in tournament football it doesn't have to be the best performance. You just have to get over the line any which way you can and the Italians have done it."

    Italy celebrate beating Austria at Euro 2020Italy have won four consecutive games at the European Championship for the second time, previously doing so in Euro 2000 when they ended up as losing finalists.

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    It was tough on Austria who, despite ending that superb Italian clean sheet record with Sasa Kalajdzic's late header, could not rouse themselves to take an entertaining last-16 game to penalties.

    Italy march on towards an even tougher test in the quarter-finals but the elation at the final whistle was the reflection of a team that had not been at its best, been examined in ways they had not endured so far in 2020, but come through.

    On the flipside, the flaws will be noted by whoever faces them next but the bottom line is Italy won in a manner that will bolster confidence because they can be so much better.

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