When Euro began, we can all agree that we expected either France or Belgium to be lifting the trophy when the dust settled.
France were underwhelming throughout and were deservedly dumped out by Switzerland in the round of 16, and Belgium are now out at the quarter-final stage at the hands of the side who simply have to be considered the new favourites to win the whole thing; Italy.
A 2-1 victory over the side ranked number one in the world is impressive even without context, but the score sheet doesn’t tell the full story here. Italy were absolutely superb.
After taking ten minutes to settle into the game, Italy took a stranglehold on the game and methodically began to tighten their grip with relentless pressing and pin-point passing which did not let Belgium breathe, both literally and figuratively.
The midfield trio of Marco Verratti, Jorginho and Nicolo Barella were just exceptional. They roared around the pitch from start to finish, hounding Belgium into giving up possession and forcing the team forward with some composed passing.
They made Youri Tielemans and Axel Witsel look exceptionally average, and kept Kevin De Bruyne – one of the most creative and industrious midfielders in the world – quiet for the majority of the game. They stopped anyone from getting close enough to Romelu Lukaku to cause any problems.
It was a dominant performance from Italy’s midfield trio, but what makes I Nerazzuri such a fearsome proposition is that this isn’t the first time they’ve done this. In fact, Italy have performed this way in every game so far this summer.
Roberto Mancini’s men were impressive enough when they were picking apart Turkey, Switzerland, Wales and Austria, but to do it against a genuine powerhouse like Belgium? Jeeeez.
The job isn’t done for Italy just yet. They’ll have to be just an impressive to get through a Spain side who will try to out-possession Roberto Mancini’s side, but based on this performance, they have more than enough quality in the tank to get the job done.
The Italian resurgence is very much alive, and just three years after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, they look like the best national team in Europe – and anything less than winning the trophy could now be seen as a failure.