Italy and Austria played out what had been a pretty cagey and drab affair until deep into the second half and extra time of their last 16 Euro 2020 clash at Wembley on Saturday, with favorites Italy holding on for a 2-1 win.
Winning their first three Group A games with ease, Italy were sluggish against a less-talented Austrian side.
Ciro Immobile hitting the upright in the first half was the closest they came to scoring in regular time, while in the second half, Marko Arnautovic had a headed goal disallowed by VAR for being offside.
Early in extra time, Italy found their stride with substitute Federico Chiesa breaking the deadlock through a fantastic volley on his left foot when bringing down a Leonardo Spinazzola pass in the six-yarder.
Just before the break, Matteo Pessina snatched a loose ball after a scramble in the box and appeared to put the tie beyond doubt with his driven shot in the bottom right corner.
In the last five minutes, however, Sasa Kalajdzic enforced panic when pulling one back with a low header from a corner, but Italy managed to hold on for a 2-1 triumph.
The evening started physical, with suspension bad boy Arnautovic receiving a yellow card inside two minutes.
Attempting to latch onto a through ball, goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann didn’t appreciate Ciro Immobile going in two-footed, though the Lazio man wasn’t booked.
The Italians started to get closer to goal through the threat of left back Spinazzola, plus Domenico Berardi on the right side of attack.
Their first shot on goal came from the left when Lorenzo Insigne attempted his famous curling shot. But it didn’t have enough bend on it to trouble Bachmann approaching the quarter of an hour mark.
With Spinazzola again involved, though, Nicolo Barella tested Bachmann’s reflexes from close range as the Watford ‘keeper kept his outside-of-the-foot shot out with his feet.
Arnautovic should have done better when clean through on goal after beating Leonardo Bonnucci for pace but could only volley over.
The Austrians looked to punish their foes on the counter after soaking up the pressure with double-Champions League winner and skipper David Alaba, yet lacked the quality to break Italy down in the final third when they got there.
The Azzurri on the other hand were always game for a shot from outside the box, with Immobile hitting the upright with around 10 minutes until half time.
Coming back out for the second installment still tied at 0-0, Italy seemed as though they might have had a stern talking to from coach Roberto Mancini and were keen to pull ahead.
Barella broke up the momentum when booked for fouling on the edge of the box, though Alaba could only hit the resulting free kick over the bar after a tense couple of minutes getting organized.
Alaba was later on hand to clear a pass on the counter that looked certain for Immobile’s feet, and elsewhere Austria defended tightly even when giving the ball away cheaply in dangerous areas.
Arnautovic almost became a national hero on 65 minutes when heading Alaba’s nod on in off the bar, however VAR ruled it offside to break Austrian hearts and put Italian minds at rest momentarily.
Austria being offside again 15 minutes from time denied a potential penalty shout, as a lethargic Italy looked no closer to pushing out of their malaise.
Introducing Manuel Locatelli, Federico Chiesa and Andrea Belotti – the last two as a double substitution – was a ploy from Mancini to do that as the match headed into extra time.
It’s fine, Wembley just kind of does this to you
— Barney Ronay (@barneyronay) June 26, 2021
Entering the record books, this was the longest – at 1,144 minutes and counting – that Italy had not conceded a goal in their entire history.
Also, they had gone into extra time on the eighth occasion in the Euros – more than any other team.
Five minutes in, Chiesa repaid Mancini’s faith when demonstrating excellent technique to volley home with his left foot.
Bringing down Spinazzola’s pinpoint ball, he had space around the six-yard box to smash past Bachmann and awake the crowd while also guaranteeing that he and Enrico became the first father-son pair to bag goals at the Euros.
The Chiesas are the only father and son to both score in European Championships in England.
— Richard Jolly (@RichJolly) June 26, 2021
Shortly after Insigne had a free kick destined for the top corner palmed away, Matteo Pessina, who netted against Wales in the group stage, probably put the tie beyond doubt by picking up a loose ball after a scramble in the box and drilling home into the bottom corner.
Austria’s dreams in tatters, they could not – despite forcing Gianluigi Donnarumma into making a fine save straight after the break – find two responses in the second half of extra time.
But Kalajdzic did indeed cause panic when meeting a corner with a low header as around five minutes remained.
With Italy able to hold on, though, it is the four-time World Cup winners that advance to the quarter-finals to face either Belgium or Portugal in Munich next week.