Belgium XI: Courtois, Ciman, Alderweireld, Vermaelen, Vertonghen, Nainggolan, Witsel, De Bruyne, Fellaini, Hazard, Lukaku
Italy XI: Buffon, Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini, Candreva, Parolo, De Rossi, Giaccherini, Darmian, Pelle, Eder
Finally, the two ‘giants’ of the group clashed and it certainly produced major excitement for fans of both nations and neutrals all across Europe!
Both teams got off to a quick start, Belgium had the first attempt of the game as Radja Nainggolan struck the ball towards the Italian goal, only for Buffon to stand strong and make a good save early on! The resulting effort seemed to be a warning shot towards Italy of the threat Belgium have in and outside of the box, as a result the Italian defence tightened up and became more solid, just how we all know them to be.
The next chance for either side came in the 28th minute as Graziano Pelle collected the ball on the corner of the Belgian box and attempted a spectacular curling effort but it went just wide! Not too long after that chance, Italy out of nothing took the lead as Leonardo Bonucci played a world class ball across the length of the field and played through Sunderland winger Emanuele Giaccherini who calmly slotted home to put his nation in front!
Italy then went close to a second, minutes later after a corner was crossed in and the man we all would expect to score, Graziano Pelle, had a free header but headed just wide, giving the Belgians a massive let-off. That scare seemed to have a positive effect on Belgium as they started to ease their way back into the game from then on they had a few pops at goal to test Buffon. Despite Belgium getting themselves back into the game, they just couldn’t seem to break down the stubborn and solid defence of Italy.
The second half got underway and it was Italy who found their feet the quickest as they were picking apart the Belgian midfield and controlling the game with ease.
Despite that, it was Belgium who had the best and first chance of the half to score as Lukaku ran through on goal with all the time in the world. He attempted to chip Buffon but he put too much on it and put it over the bar. Eden Hazard then had an attempt of his own from outside the Italian area but it was tame and Buffon again made a fairly comfortable save.
The game then became fast-paced and end to end stuff, you couldn’t help but think there was another goal coming from somewhere. Crosses were coming in from both sides from each team, legs were tiring and passes were going astray many times, which just showed the fight and fierceness that went into both teams performances’.
For the final 20 minutes or so the Italians were on the back foot and defending for their lives, the Belgian attacking power could just not break them down. They did have one clear chance in the 80th minute when Kevin De Bruyne whipped a ball into the box and Divock Origi had a free header from around 8 yards out, only for him to choke and head it over the bar!
It finally reached the final few minutes in what seemed the longest game ever and Italy FINALLY got out of their own half, ran up the other end with pace and as it was crossed into Graziano Pelle he swung at it on the volley and smashed it into the back of the Belgian net to earn his side a hard fought 2-0 win!