Euro 2016 round-up: Belgium 0 Italy 2 - and what the result means

Marco Parolo of Italy (second from right) in action against Jan Vertonghen (second from left) of Belgium during the UEFA Euro 2016 Group E preliminary round match between Belgium and Italy at Stade de Lyon in Lyon, France.
Marco Parolo of Italy (second from right) in action against Jan Vertonghen (second from left) of Belgium during the UEFA Euro 2016 Group E preliminary round match between Belgium and Italy at Stade de Lyon in Lyon, France.PHOTO: EPA

Italy manager Antonio Conte's reputation will be enhanced by this result. Faced with the world No. 2 and top ranked team in the Euros, the Azzurri made a mockery of their position 10 spots down the standings and title of underdogs.

Belgium and their "golden generation" of attacking talents were nullified by Italy and the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne were left frustrated by their opponent's tactics and sometimes cynical play.

Having kept Belgium at bay for the opening half-hour, the Italians struck in the 32nd minute when Leonardo Bonucci's pass found Emanuele Giaccherini who gave Italy the lead with a classy finish.

The pre-match confidence seemed to ebb out of Belgium's players and while they had their chances to equalise, they were let down by Lukaku's poor finishing.

The icing on the cake for Conte was delivered by Graziano Pelle who struck in injury-time following a breakaway attack.

 
 
 

Match highlights

- A lightning breakaway in the 10th min sees the ball laid off for a stinging shot by Radja Nainggolan but Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon palms it clear. Nice piece of play by the Belgium attackers to create that chance.

- Another long-range effort by Nainggolan in the middle of the first-half but this does not trouble the Italy goal.

- Bonucci plays a perfectly-flighted ball from inside his half which lands nicely into the run of Giaccherini. The touch to control the ball is exquisite and the midfielder opens up his body to finish beyond Thibaut Courtois. Italy lead against the run of play in the 32nd minute.

- Belgium are rocked. A rasping shot by Antonio Candreva forces Courtois into another save before Pelle is unmarked but misses with his header from six yards.

- A lightning counter by Belgium sees de Bruyne pick out Lukaku and the striker is through on goal. But his chip floats over Buffon and the crossbar. Best chance of the night for the Red Devils and a bad miss from Lukaku.

- Italy's own big target man Pelle almost doubles the lead with a angled header but Courtois flings himself to his right and gets a fingertip to it.

- Lukaku's replacement, Divock Origi, is free in the penalty area but his 83rd minute header goes over the crossbar.

- Pelle completes the tactical masterclass in injury time when he smashed home a cross by Candreva to seal the 2-0 win.

The talking point

For all the talent at Belgium's disposal, they lack a top-class coach. Marc Wilmots does not seem to have a clear philosophy and the stifled performances of his two most creative players, Hazard and de Bruyne, is worrying for fans of the Red Devils. Conversely, this is one of the more limited Italian sides in recent years yet they remain a formidable outfit and much of that is down to Antonio Conte. The tactically astute Italian devised the perfect plan, to squeeze the space in midfield and hit their opponents on the counter-attack. It was also a glimpse of what's in store for Chelsea fans next season.

Man of the Match

Giorgio Chiellini was a rock at the back for the Azzurri. The Juventus stopper worked wonderfully in tandem with club-mate Buffon to snuff out the physical threat of Lukaku. Even his yellow card for a foul on Hazard was calculated to halt a potentially dangerous counter-attack.

What the result means

Dismissed at the start of the tournament, Italy have answered their critics and on the basis of this result, will be a force to be reckoned with, particularly with a backline that so effectively shut out the highly-fancied Belgium. Thanks to Sweden's draw with Ireland, they are now in the driving seat in Group E. As for Wilmots' Belgium, they once again flattered to deceive and questions will be asked about their mentality and hunger. Too many star players, including captain Hazard, went missing in this game. They need to regroup in time for Saturday's clash against the Irish.

Key statistic

The victory maintained Italy's enviable record at the Euros of having never lost a match after securing a half-time lead. And to the naysayers who argue against their defensive approach, they had twice as many shots on target (six versus three) compared to Belgium. The team in red had one shot on target in the second half.

What they said

Conte: "It was a great game, we suffered when we had to. But, we haven't done anything yet."