Premier League Duo Give Italy Victory over Belgium


Emanuele Giaccherini and Graziano Pelle scored as Italy began their Euro 2016 campaign with victory over much-fancied Belgium in Lyon.

Sunderland’s Giaccherini slotted home in the first half after collecting Leonardo Bonucci’s superb long pass.
Southampton’s Pelle sealed the win in injury time with an emphatic finish following an incisive break.
Belgium were very disappointing, with Romelu Lukaku and Divock Origi wasteful in front of goal.

Everton forward Lukaku curled over from the edge of the box with just the keeper to beat while Liverpool’s Origi missed two opportunities to head his side level.

Before the tournament, some pundits had condemned this Italy squad for a lack of quality, and even coach Antonio Conte said: “It isn’t a good time for our football.”

The soon-to-be-Chelsea boss added: “It’s important the squad has a good spirit. I work a lot at this.” On the evidence of this game, that is not the only thing he has worked at.
Italy’s triumph was a result to superior organisation and discipline against 11 Belgian individuals who posses, on paper at least, the greater talent.

Before the tournament, this looked to be the toughest fixture for both sides, who now face games against the Republic of Ireland and Sweden, who drew 1-1 earlier.

With 16 of 24 teams progressing from the group stage, Italy have already taken a huge step towards progressing.
Italy have won this competition once, in 1968, and finished runners-up twice – the most recent of which was in 2012 when they were demolished 4-0 by Spain in the final.

While the current Azzurri side were unbeaten in qualifying, winning seven of their 10 matches, they compare unfavourably with the side of four years ago, lacking the calm, creative brilliance of Andrea Pirlo in midfield and an attacking spearhead to adequately replace a faded Mario Balotelli.

What they do have, though, is a meticulous and tactically-astute coach in the Chelsea-bound Conte and a stubborn Juventus-centric defence.

Such a foundation allowed them to limit and frustrate Belgium, leaving them vulnerable to one piece of ruthless counter-attacking brilliance, which is exactly what Bonucci’s 50-yard, defence-splitting pass and Giaccherini’s cool finish provided.

The second half would have been more comfortable for Italy had a second goal been scored from an unmarked position by Pelle, who also had a second header saved by Thibaut Courtois after the break.
However, the Old Lady’s imperious rearguard held firm before Pelle was on hand to volley the ball in following a break and neat chipped cross from Antonio Candreva.

Despite having only qualified for one major tournament in the last 14 years, Belgium came to France as Europe’s top-ranked side and one of the favourites to triumph in Paris on 10 July.

Their status is built around the attacking potential and club-forged reputation of individuals like Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Lukaku, as opposed to consistent evidence of a cohesive international team.
However, the Red Devils did little to suggest they are ready to convert this promise into something concrete on the big stage.
They were pedestrian in the first half, failing to get in behind the Italian backline, with De Bruyne particularly isolated.

They upped the speed after the break but still struggled to test Gianluigi Buffon, with Lukaku curling over a good chance and substitute Origi spurning two glorious headed opportunities.
Equally as worrying for Belgium is the performance of their defence.

Already without the injured Vincent Kompany, they looked particularly vulnerable with Jan Vertonghen deployed at left-back instead of alongside his Tottenham colleague Toby Alderweireld at centre-half.