Mancini celebrates ‘extraordinary’ victory of Italy over Belgium

Italy defeated Belgium 2-1 in a pulse-pounding Euro 2020 quarter-final in Munich on Friday to set up a last-four clash with Spain, who needed penalties to beat 10-man Switzerland.

Lorenzo Insigne’s brilliant attack proved to be the winner for Italy, who extended their unbeaten national record to 32 games.

The men of Roberto Mancini will face Spain in the first semi-final at Wembley on Tuesday.

“We deserved to win. The players were extraordinary,” Italian coach Mancini told Rai.

“Obviously we suffered the last 10 minutes because we were tired. They were good, we could have scored a few more goals.”

Belgium and Italy were the only sides to win all 10 matches in qualifying and the only teams along with the Netherlands to win every match in the group stage.

The Azzurri, whose only European title was in 1968, got off to a good start and thought they had struck first when Leonardo Bonucci put the ball into the net, before VAR ruled out the goal for offside.

Nicolo Barella gave Italy the lead in the 31st minute with a fine solo goal, looking in between two defenders and hammering a shot into the far corner past Thibaut Courtois.

The Italians were in dreamland when Insignia curled a stunning long-range attack into the top corner shortly before halftime.

But Belgium gave themselves hope in first-half stoppage time with a penalty from Romelu Lukaku after Jeremy Doku was pushed into the penalty area by Giovanni Di Lorenzo.

The Belgians had their moments in the second half, with Lukaku denied by a desperate last-ditch defence.

Doku shot over after a dizzying run as the world’s top-ranked side mounted the pressure, but Italy held on to reach the semi-finals for the sixth time.

Spain defeats brave Swiss

Earlier on Friday, Spain, champions in 2008 and 2012, defeated Switzerland 3-1 on penalties after their Saint Petersburg quarter-final finished 1-1 at the end of extra time, with Mikel Oyarzabal scoring the winning kick.

Luis Enrique’s side looked to slip as Jordi Alba’s shot deflected off Denis Zakaria for an own goal to put Spain ahead in the eighth minute.

However, the Swiss had caused a sensation by knocking out world champions France in the last 16 and they fought back to equalize midway through the second half when a disastrous defensive mix-up between Spanish centre-backs Aymeric Laporte and Pau Torres enabled Xherdan Shaqiri suggested to score .

Switzerland then held on to extra time after midfielder Remo Freuler was sent off in the 77th minute for a challenge on Gerard Moreno.

They had converted all five penalties in the shoot-out against France and this time they got a lead when Sergio Busquets hit the post with Spain’s first try.

Rodri also failed to score for Spain, but Unai Simon saved from Fabian Schaer and Manuel Akanji before Ruben Vargas passed.

Virus Concerns in Russia

Oyarzabal’s kick allowed Spain to move on and help dispel the memory of their penalty defeat in the last 16 of the 2018 World Cup against the hosts in Russia.

“Unai (Simon), I’ve seen him save a lot of penalties at Athletic Bilbao, and I see him training with us… he’s a specialist,” said Spanish boss Luis Enrique.

Friday’s game went on in St Petersburg despite major concerns about an increase in coronavirus cases in the Russian city fueled by the Delta variant.

Earlier on Friday, Russia reported 679 deaths from the coronavirus in the past 24 hours, marking a pandemic-high number of fatalities for the fourth day in a row. Saint Petersburg recorded 101 deaths.

Nearly 25,000 spectators watched the match at the Krestovsky Stadium, which has welcomed some of the largest crowds allowed at this pandemic-stricken European Championship.

The remaining quarter-finals will be played on Saturday, when England – fresh from beating Germany – will face Ukraine in Rome.

England may not have many fans at the Stadio Olimpico due to Italy’s coronavirus rules, meaning all arrivals from the UK will have to quarantine for five days.

Denmark will play against the Czech Republic in Baku, exactly three weeks after Christian Eriksen’s cardiac arrest in the Danes’ first match at the tournament.

Eriksen was released from the hospital less than a week after his collapse after a defibrillator was implanted to regulate his heart rate, and without him, Kasper Hjulmand’s team has gathered to reach the final eight.

“We will play with the heart of Christian Eriksen. He is still the heart of the team and with that heart and without fear we will try,” said Hjulmand.

(AFP)

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