ROBERTO MANCINI has got Italy in love with the Azzurri again.
This incredible performance in Munich showed why.
The World’s number one FIFA ranked side beaten by a performance of such pace and energy that consigned to the dustbin age old labels of negativity that Italian teams have carried.
Ones that concentrated on the defensive part rather than the rich gifts that Mancini has released in attack.
He picked this national side up from the humiliation of failing to even qualify for the last World Cup.
Now on a run of 32 games unbeaten they head into a semi-final meeting with Spain at Wembley next Tuesday with the wind at their heels.
It was pulsating, breathless stuff from beginning to end.
The pure quality made this the game of the tournament so far.
A performance from Italy full of guile, full of energy, determination,
If they lose the ball they hound you down to get it back as they did with the first goal.
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They transfer numbers from front to back and back to front with amazing speed.
Mancini possessed incredible skills as a player, claimed trophies on his travels as a manager, kick starting Manchester City’s glorious period.
Now he has unleashed the best of the talent from his own country as national team manager.
Where to start with this.
Well, in a thrilling first period Italy thought they were ahead after just 13 minutes when Leonardo Bonucci found the back of the net after a free kick was swung in from the right.
VAR proved that the touch on into his path from Giovanni Di Lorenzo found him offside in the six-yard box.
Belgium responded and a short period to themselves.
Any question marks over Kevin De Bruyne’s fitness for this game were quickly dispelled as he lived up to his billing as Belgium’s danger man.
The Manchester City star loves a quick break and his shot on 22 minutes as defence turned into attack for the Red Devils was well saved at full stretch by Gianluigi Donnarumma.
De Bruyne claimed during the group stages that he has a special understanding with Romelu Lukaku.
So it proved when he broke again from the back and fed the Inter Milan star whose left footed shot was well saved.
The game was going from end to end and this time it was Italy’s turn.
Federico Chiesa had a deflected shot that fell into the arms of Thibaut Courtois.
The same player curled one over the top.
Then on 31 minutes the deadlock was broken and this time the VAR could put his feet up.
Former Spurs man Jan Vertonghen was guilty of losing possession as he tried to bring the ball out of his box and Marco Veratti nicked it.
He played it into Nicolo Barella who kept his balance and wriggled between three Belgian players before delivering his finish.
The second on 44 minutes was a classic as Lorenzo Insigne picked the ball up inside his own half and drove forward.
A dip of his shoulder and he had left Youri Tielemans in his wake. Belgian sat off and he had his opening to curl a shot beyond the full length dive of Courtois and into the far top corner.
Italy on top, dominating, on their way, but then they gifted Belgian a lifeline at a crucial time in the final act of the half.
Some referees might not have given the penalty but Giovanni Di Lorenzo definitely shoved Jeremy Doku who went down.
Lukaku did the rest from the spot firing the ball down the middle of the goal.
Suddenly moods had changed.
Belgian on the up, Italy feeling like they had let their opponents of the hook and plunged themselves back into a battle they had already won.
Mancini’s words in the changing rooms immediately picked the momentum back up.
From the restart they were playing all the football, they were dominating.
Still with De Bruyne and Lukaku, Belgium always knew they could nick something with a pulsating break and that was what they were relying on.
Their big chance came in the 61st minute with De Bruyne finding the striker at the far post but as he tried to bundle the ball home Leonardo Spinazzola got in the ball’s way and deflected it wide.
His teammates celebrated with him as if a goal had been scored at the other end.
It says everything about this Italian team that it was the same left-back who moments later was up the other end firing a shot wide.
As much as the Italian fans were loving it though they wanted the curtain to come down.
As the seconds ticked down, Mancini switched things to shut up shop, glory was beckoning.
In the 89th minute De Bruyne was caught, a free-kick given.
De Bruyne’s shot was charged down by Domenico Berardi who was booked for being not ten yards and the kick was to be retaken.
Chipped into the area the goalkeeper was fouled.
With five minutes injury time shown Italian hearts remained in mouths.
Soon they would jump for joy.
Forza Italia, Forza Mancini.
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