Italy’s extra-time win vs Austria a reminder of knockout football’s sharp edges

·3-min read
 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

If there is anything to be learned from Italy’s clash with Austria, it is that looking the business in the group stages at a major tournament counts for very little when the knockout rounds start.

On their march to the top of Group A, Italy had looked the business both on and off the pitch (just google ‘Roberto Mancini jacket’) and they’d gone from being fancied outsiders to some people’s favourites to win Euro 2020.

They were expected to brush aside Austria here at Wembley in their last-16 match, particularly given seemingly the whole of London’s Italian population had got their hands on tickets to cheer them on.

That plan, however, did not come to fruition and instead Italy were made to battle their way past a stubborn and resilient Austria side.

They got their in the end - courtesy of substitutes Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina’s brilliant strikes in extra time - but on another night it could so easily have gone the other way, and Mancini will be thankful VAR intervened to rule out Marko Arnautovic’s second-half header for offside.

 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

There is a lot to like about this Italy team, from the marauding Leonardo Spinazzola at full-back to the goal-hungry striker Ciro Immobile, who seems so hellbent on scoring you suspect he’d trample over his own grandma if it meant he could find the net.

In between them is a technically gifted midfield of Jorginho, Marco Verratti and Nicolo Barella, who controlled large portions of this game with ease.

But for all their talent and quality, Italy will know they must play much better than this if they’re serious about going far in this tournament. Maybe this was the wake-up call they needed?

Austria showed how you can frustrate them by being compact and organised, while they also highlighted how catching them on the counter can be profitable too.

That was where Austria had their few moments of joy in the first half and Arnautovic got in a couple of times on the break, with only some frantic defending and poor finishing denying him.

Other than that, Italy dominated the opening 45 minutes and they should have been ahead by the break.

In the end, the closest they came was Immobile striking the post from outside the box just after the half-hour mark and some strong Austrian defending meant it stayed 0-0.

Clearly unhappy with the script of the first half, Austria ripped it up for the second and it was they who should have been ahead.

First, David Alaba almost bent a free-kick into the top corner - and then Marcel Sabitzer went close to scoring with a shot that took a wicked deflection off Leonardo Bonucci.

Austria did have the ball in the net with 25 minutes to go, but VAR intervened and ruled that Arnautovic was in fact in an offside position when he headed home.

The let-off sparked Italy into life, as did the introduction of Manuel Locatelli, Chiesa and Pessina, but they couldn’t find a way through and so the game headed to extra time.

Clearly not keen on the prospect of a penalty shootout, Italy came out of the blocks flying and within five minutes they had the goal they craved.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

It was always going to take something special to break Austria down and in the end it was substitute Chiesa who produced it.

The forward received the ball right by the touchline in the box, and he flicked it inside before arrowing it into the bottom corner.

It was a brilliant finish and 10 minutes later Pessina scored an equally impressive goal by lashing one home with his left foot.

That should have been that, but Austria ensured Italy had one last scare thanks to Sasa Kalajdzic’s stunning diving header with five minutes to go.

It was not, however, the start of a famous comeback and Mancini no doubt breathed a huge sigh of relief at the end.

He knew his side had survived an almighty scare and Italy will hope they’re spared another night like this.

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