Italy wastes time against Belgium shows they are masters of dark arts
Italy is back. Masters of the dark arts who won the 2006 World Cup with defense, courage and hand gestures missed the 2018 World Cup, sparking a national team overhaul. Now Roberto Mancini has Italy two wins away from another major title, with the Azzurri combining a ruthlessly efficient attacking style with Italy’s timeless defense and shit.
Nicoló Barella and Lorenzo Insigne scored scorching goals in the first half as Italy beat world No.1 Belgium 2-1 in the Euro 2020 quarter-finals on Friday in Munich. The Italians, who have become the current favorites to win everything, will face Spain in the semi-final on Tuesday.
Mancini’s Italy can be incredibly fun to watch. The Azzurri can pounce with quick strikes or rack up well-worked goals, scoring 11 times as one of the tournament’s best attacks.
But Italy is, as always, built on defense. Although the team’s record-breaking streak of 1,143 minutes without conceding ended against Austria in the round of 16, Gianluigi Donnarumma was massive in goals, as were veteran center-backs Georgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci.
Italy has their offensive attack and defensive buzz, and yet it’s hard not to talk about that killer instinct this Azzurri the team seems to have regained that desire to do whatever it takes to win, whether it’s luring an opponent to a red card in the World Cup final like Marco Materazzi in 2006 or l one of the countless dark arts employed by Italy to maintain its lead over Belgium on Friday.
Mancini’s team showed masterful use of the kind of shit we usually attribute in the United States to Concacaf’s most cynical national teams. But Italy makes an art of it.
Before the first base, Ciro Immobile twisted in apparent pain in the 18-yard penalty area, begging for a penalty shot. As soon as his teammate Nicoló Barella scored moments later, he jumped to his feet in celebration, miraculously healed.
Lorenzo Insigne then scored a magnificent goal which turned out to be the game winner in the 44th minute.
A two-goal hole is difficult to overcome at any time, but especially against Italy’s well-established defense. But this defense could not avoid conceding an admittedly weak penalty which allowed Belgium to return to the game at 2-1 just before half-time.
The second half was a master class on how to see a game. As the game progressed, the Italians dealt with any potential injuries, any potential yellow cards, and any potential opportunities to shoot the ball.
It worked, as the referee allowed only five minutes of added time despite many more losses. The game continued beyond those five minutes, but Belgian fans will certainly think there should have been even more additions.
Expert time wasting was embodied in the dying minutes of regulation when Kevin de Bruyne won a free kick outside the Italian penalty area with 88:30 on the clock. After Andrea Bellotti delayed getting treatment because Axel Witsel’s arm may have grazed her face, Domenico Berardi ignored the 10-yard rule and blocked KDB’s free kick from five yards. Italy then made a substitution.
By the time De Bruyne took his free kick, two and a half minutes had passed. On the free kick, Donnarumma came out to grab the ball but couldn’t handle it, losing control when Chiellini hit him. Somehow the referee called a foul against Belgium and another 90 seconds passed before play resumed.
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The referee blew the final whistle after seven minutes of added time, despite the ball barely in play during those seven minutes.
Pure Italian art. Or absurd dark arts that should be punished. Either way, Italy is in the semi-finals for a confrontation with Spain. (The only downside was that when Leonardo Spinazzola got really hurt, Belgian fans booed him for wasting time.)
For Belgium, it’s another disheartening end to a major international tournament. With a golden generation of talent led by De Bruyne, Lukaku and the Hazard Bros., this was meant to be when the Red Devils broke through with a major trophy. But talent alone won’t win you tournaments.
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Let this serve as a lesson for USMNT, who are hoping their current generation of young talent will grow into a golden generation: playing for Barcelona, Juventus and Chelsea means nothing if you can’t bring it all together at the most important moment.
Perhaps Belgium (and the United States) should take note of the cynical dark arts employed by Italy on Friday.