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3 things we learned from Italy v. Austria

Pro Soccer Talk share their EURO 2020 frontrunners, including an England team with massive homefield advantages at Wembley.

Italy became the second nation, joining Denmark, to reach the quarterfinals of EURO 2020 with a 2-1 extra-time victory over Austria in the round of 16 at Wembley Stadium in London on Saturday.

[ MORE: EURO 2020 hub ]

Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina got the all important goals for Italy, but not until they were forced into 30 extra minutes of action, negating some of the advantage bestowed upon them by the scheduling gods. Speaking of such matters, up next for Italy is a quarterfinal clash with the winner of Belgium- Portugal (Sunday, 2 pm ET), two of the most commonly backed sides at EURO 2020.

Three things we learned: Italy - Austria

1. A tough(er) test for Italy: While Austria offered next to nothing for long periods (1 shot attempted in the first half), they arrived in London with one thing that none of Italy’s group opponents had: an organized defense comfortable playing on the back foot and soaking up pressure. Predictably, this posed to the Italians a far greater challenge than they had yet faced at EURO 2020, and it nearly resulted in the first massive upset of the knockout rounds.

2. Italy continued to press, until they didn’t: Ladies and gentleman, this is not your father’s Italy, nor is it your grandfather’s or great grandfather’s, and so on. This team, under Roberto Mancini — gasp — presses the opposition high up the field and forces turnovers which result in much easier (and faster) scoring chances for the Azzurri. It’s hardly a remarkable concept in the modern game, but it’s obviously a massive departure for longtime Italy supporters. Mancini is clever, though, and still instructs the team to drop deeper and deeper after the initial line of confrontation is broken, perhaps to keep the more ardent gatekeepers of calcio onside. Where Italy got themselves into trouble was when they no longer looked to press — or, at least, failed to do so effectively — in the second half. At that point, it was a 50-50 game for them, at best.

3. Quarterfinal underdogs, against Belgium or Portugal: Based on form and performances thus far at EURO 2020, Belgium have looked a much better side than Italy, while Portugal have already been through the gauntlet that was Group F (alongside France, Germany and Hungary) where they proved they’re ready for another deep run. It doesn’t matter who comes out on top on Sunday, they’ll be favorites on Friday (3 pm ET).

Man of the match: Leonardo Spinazzola - If Italy created a halfway decent chance in this game, it’s highly probably that Spinazzola put his fingerprints all over the sequence just before the shot.

The game’s first scoring chance came in the 17th minute, as breakout star Leonardo Spinazzola raced down the left wing and crossed just before reaching the end line. The ball sliced through a sea of bodies toward the top of the penalty area where Nicolo Barella was waiting to smash it with his right foot. A quick reaction kick-save was the only option for Daniel Bachmann.

Ciro Immobile went six inches from breaking the deadlock in the 32nd minute, when he uncorked a viciously swerving strike from 28 yards out. Unfortunately for Immobile and Italy, the ball was moving away from goal and went ever so slightly too far left and smashed the outside of the post.

Austria grew into the game a bit more as the second half began and slowly wore on. Right on the hour mark, Marcel Sabitzer went close to beating Gianluigi Donnarumma with a shot from outside the box, but Leonardo Bonucci made a key block and deflection to help the ball wide of the same post Immobile struck not so long before.

Three minutes later, Donnarumma’s goal was breached from a seemingly harmless Austria move. David Alaba rose highest to meet a cross and headed the ball across the box and face of goal. Arnautovic headed it on frame — literally — as the ball grazed the underside of the crossbar and fell over the line. However, video review had other ideas.

The score remained 1-0 until the 95th minute. Spinazzola’s diagonal ball toward the far post found Chiesa, who only just managed to chest the ball down and corral it before striking ever so sweetly with his left foot.

Lorenzo Insigne forced Bachmann into a fantastic diving save to deny the diminutive Napoli winger’s equally fantastic free kick.

The pressure never subsided, and Italy got their second goal mere seconds later. Again, the move started with Spinazzola stretching Austria wide and playing a brilliant ball into the box. Andrea Belotti received this one and laid it off to Pessina from his backside, and Pessina rifled his shot past Bachmann.

Five minutes from the end of extra time, Italy’s incredible clean sheet streak was snapped at 1,168 minutes by Sasa Kalajdzic’s stupendously brave header from a corner kick.

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