Italy 2-1 Belgium: Azzurri down Red Devils to take third place in Nations League

By Sports Desk October 10, 2021

Nicolo Barella and Domenico Berardi struck in the second half as Italy defeated Belgium 2-1 to claim third place at the 2021 Nations League Finals on Sunday.

Roberto Martinez's side, who let slip a two-goal lead to lose to France on Thursday, were denied twice by the woodwork either side of Barella's volley, which gave the reigning European champions the lead just a minute after the interval.

Berardi then scored from the penalty spot to add a second for Roberto Mancini's team, who had their record 37-game unbeaten run ended by Spain in Wednesday's semi-final, before Charles de Ketelaere netted a late consolation.

Italy banished any demons after their first competitive loss on home soil since 1999 while Belgium - having faltered in a Euro 2020 quarter-final against the same opponents - may now have to wait until the 2022 World Cup to inflict revenge.

Federico Chiesa blasted the first chance of the contest narrowly over from a tight angle before a deflected effort from Berardi was parried away by Thibaut Courtois.

Toby Alderweireld's near-post header then forced Gianluigi Donnarumma's first save, but the Italy goalkeeper could only stand and watch as Alexis Saelemaekers curled onto the crossbar moments later.

Barella responded by sending a speculative long-range effort over before Chiesa was excellently denied by Courtois' legs on the stroke of half-time.

Courtois, however, was no match for Barella's right-footed volley straight after the break, the midfielder finding the bottom corner to open the scoring.

Michy Batshuayi almost immediately drew Belgium level, his right-footed drive cannoning into the bar, before Timothy Castagne needlessly fouled Chiesa to concede a penalty, one Berardi converted despite Courtois getting a hand to the effort.

Yannick Carrasco struck the right-hand post and while De Ketelaere did roll through Donnarumma's legs to score, Belgium could were unable to find a late leveller.

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  • Croatia boss Dalic laments ageing squad and defensive issues for Euro 2024 struggles Croatia boss Dalic laments ageing squad and defensive issues for Euro 2024 struggles

    Croatia are on the brink of an early Euro 2024 exit and Zlatko Dalic apportions their struggles to an ageing squad and defensive issues.

    Dalic's side must overcome Italy on Monday to have any chance of escaping Group B, sitting on just one point after a 2-2 draw with Albania followed a 3-0 humbling by Spain in their opener.

    Croatia have not gone through a group stage without winning at a major tournament since the 2006 World Cup (D2 L1) as those defensive problems referenced by Dalic remain the main issue.

    They have conceded five goals in two matches so far, only letting more in at two major tournament group stages, shipping six at Euro 2004 and as many at the World Cup 10 years later.

    "We haven't started well," Dalic told reporters on Sunday. "We haven't been up to our usual standards because we've been conceding too many goals.

    "We only conceded once in the group stage in Qatar 2022, we've conceded five thus far here.

    "The players are three years older. We are also coming up against strong opposition here as well. Perhaps the main issue is that we started to concede goals this season."

    Indeed, Croatia have an ageing midfield with Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic, as well as calling upon veteran Ivan Perisic.

    Yet that experience can still prove pivotal. Modric played 64 passes in the final third against Albania, the second-most by a player on record in a European Championship match (1980 onwards), behind Mesut Ozil for Germany versus Greece at Euro 2012 (74).

    Modric also made his 34th appearance across the Euros and World Cup combined in that Albania draw, a total only six outfield European players can better.

    That in-game knowledge and quality could prove decisive when they meet Italy, in what Dalic acknowledge is a winner-takes-all clash.

    "We know it's essentially a knockout match tomorrow, and there won't be any extra time and we must simply win the game," Dalic said.

    "It's a must-win, any other result will send us home. We don't want to go home so soon.

    "We'll try to stop them from getting that draw. We'll try and stay relaxed to not lose our cool or lose our heads and not allow the opposition to get on top of us.

    "Anything can happen tomorrow night but we're ready to take it on again."

    Dalic has previously apologised to the travelling Croatia supporters for their performance against Spain, though his side are creating ample chances to win games.

    Croatia have already had more shots (38) and more shots on target (15) at this tournament than they had in their Euro 2020 group stage (30 shots, 10 on target).

    They have only had more efforts on target at the group stages of two Euros – 19 in 2004 and 16 in 1996 – with Dalic just needing fortune to fall in Croatia's favour in Leipzig.

    He continued: "Yes, there is pressure. And that comes down to the results we've had thus far and also to the thousands of fans that have been travelling and will be there in Leipzig as well.

    "So there is pressure for us to put a smile on their faces, to try to get a good result for our country. We need to show our true level. So right from the word go, we need to try to put things right."

  • Spalletti willing to switch things up after 'mistakes' in Spain defeat Spalletti willing to switch things up after 'mistakes' in Spain defeat

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    Spain secured top spot in Group B after their 1-0 victory over Italy on Thursday, with Riccardo Calafiori's own goal handing La Roja the win in the 55th minute.

    Despite the narrow scoreline, Italy struggled to test their counterparts in the final third, managing just four shots in the match, with Unai Simon only having to make one save.

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    "Of course, after a game like that, there is the notion and the idea to change the team a little bit," Spalletti said.

    "I probably made mistakes in not mixing things up quicker in terms of the performance we produced, but I thought it would be a gamble to tweak anything because we saw everything that had been said in recent times.

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    "There are certain matches which ultimately dictate whether it's been a great tale or a tale to forget, so the glory of your tale comes down to matches such as this," Spaelletti added.

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    Yet France's only goal at the tournament so far has come courtesy of Maximilian Wober turning into his own net in the opening 1-0 victory over Austria, before a goalless draw with the Netherlands on Friday.

    France failed to score with any of their 15 shots in a wasteful display against the Oranje as Deschamps went without Kylian Mbappe, who was only fit enough for the bench due to his broken nose.

    Asked about Les Bleus' profligate showings, Deschamps responded: "I am not concerned. It is just the name of the game.

    "Sometimes you have countless chances and don't hit the back of the net, and sometimes it is the other way round.

    "I would be worried if there were not any chances. Efficiency at high-level football is important, and it is something we can work on.

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    "We are depressed by this result, but we still have one more game in our group, and we need to put our best foot forward and try to win three points," Lewandowski said.

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    France – N'Golo Kante

    N'Golo Kante was a surprise inclusion in Deschamps' squad for the tournament after a two-year absence from the national side, but his performances so far have earned him the Player of the Match award in their opening two games.

    The midfielder has made more major tournament appearances without losing than any other European player, with France unbeaten in all 17 games he has played across the Euros and World Cup (W12 D5).

    Poland – Piotr Zielinski

    Poland may be out of the tournament but will be desperate to go down fighting, with Piotr Zielinski again expected to be key here.

    Zielinski has been directly involved in more shots than any other Poland player at Euro 2024 (11 – seven shots, four chances created), as well as completing the most passes for his side (68) across the first two rounds.

    MATCH PREDICTION: FRANCE WIN

    This will only be the third meeting between France and Poland in a major tournament, and the first at the Euros. Poland won a third-place play-off match 3-2 at the 1982 World Cup, while France triumphed 3-1 in the round of 16 at the 2022 World Cup.

    Including all competitions, France are unbeaten in their last eight meetings with Poland (W4 D4), since losing a friendly match 4-0 in August 1982.

    Les Bleus simply need to avoid defeat to qualify for the knockout stages, and they are unbeaten in their eight games in the group stage at the Euros under Deschamps (W4 D4), with their last such defeat coming on MD 3 versus Sweden at Euro 2012 (2-0), under Laurent Blanc.

    Meanwhile, Poland have lost both of their games at Euro 2024 so far but have never previously suffered three defeats in a single group stage at a major tournament.

    Poland have lost their final group stage match in three of their four previous appearances at the European Championships, with the exception being a 1-0 win against Ukraine in 2016 – the only time they have reached the knockout rounds of the competition.

    OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

    France – 73.9%

    Draw – 14.8%

    Poland – 11.2%

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