Italy’s unusually impressive display of attacking soccer at this year’s European Championship lasted right up until Austria got in the way.
That didn’t stop the Italians, but it sure made them look more beatable after three straight praiseworthy wins in the group stage at Euro 2020.
“We knew there would be some potential banana skins in this match and we thought that it might even be tougher than the quarterfinals,” Italy coach Roberto Mancini said. “Of course Austria aren’t as good as the teams we’ll face in the next round but they really do make life tough for you.”
Italy managed to finally break through the stubborn Austrian defense in extra time on Saturday at Wembley Stadium, winning 2-1 with goals from Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina to earn a spot in the quarterfinals.
“We knew that had we scored in the first half it would have been a different game, but we didn’t manage to and we had to dig deep. But the players really wanted to win at all costs,” Mancini said. “It can do us well to have played a game like this.”
Italy has been transformed into an attack-minded juggernaut since Mancini took over following the team’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, though defender Leonardo Bonucci had said they were ready to forget the beautiful game to get a result.
Everything went well at the start against Austria, with Ciro Immobile hitting the post in the first half. But Italy got lucky, too. The video assistant referee ruled out an Austrian goal for offside and another whistle stopped a play that could have led to a penalty for Austria after a potential foul by Pessina.
For Mancini, though, Italy’s attack was still working well, his players just weren’t putting the ball in the net.
“I think we had 26 shots on goal, it’s not like we had two,” Mancini said. “Perhaps we weren’t quite accurate enough but I think when we had to battle the players were extraordinary.
“Despite the fact that Austria were considered simple opponents by a lot of people, Austria don’t lose easily and they cause problems because they don’t allow you to play soccer. They press you, they defend well.”
With the victory, Italy set a team record of 31 straight matches unbeaten as well as a record 12 straight wins. The Azzurri also set a world record of 1,168 minutes for not conceding a goal in international soccer. That ended late in extra time when Sasa Kalajdzic scored a consolation goal for Austria.
In the quarterfinals on Friday in Munich, Italy will play either defending champion Portugal or top-ranked Belgium. That means trying to stop either Cristiano Ronaldo or Romelu Lukaku.
“If it’s possible,” Mancini said with a smile, “I would avoid both of them.”