Italy keep nerve to beat Austria, reach Euro 2020 quarter-finals

Italy struck twice in extra-time to beat Austria 2-1, setting up a quarter-final against either Belgium or Portugal.

Italy's Leonardo Bonucci celebrates after the team's 2-1 victory over Austria on June 26 [Carl Recine/Pool via Reuters]

Substitutes Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina struck in extra-time as Italy beat battling Austria 2-1 to reach the quarter-finals of Euro 2020 at Wembley Stadium on Saturday.

The two teams were locked at 0-0 after 90 minutes in London, with Italy enjoying the better of the first half but Austria rattling Roberto Mancini’s side in the second period.

Chiesa struck early in extra-time to calm Italy’s nerves and another goal from Pessina set up a quarter-final against the winners of Sunday’s tie between Belgium and holders Portugal, despite late drama.

Having emerged as Group A winners with a 100 percent record after playing all three of their games in Rome, Italy were on the road for the first time in the tournament.

Mancini made seven changes from the side that beat Wales as Marco Verratti started instead of Manuel Locatelli in midfield, while Giorgio Chiellini again missed out with a hamstring injury.

After belting out another rousing rendition of their national anthem with ample backing from the largely Italian crowd, the Azzurri made a lively start.

Leonardo Spinazzola’s buccaneering bursts from left-back were a constant threat and he had Italy’s first sight of goal with a blast wide from an acute angle.

Italy fans celebrate in Piazza del Popolo after Federico Chiesa scored the team’s first goal in extra-time [Remo Casilli/Reuters]

Lorenzo Insigne was picked out by Verratti on the left side of the Austria penalty area moments later, but his curling shot was too close to goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann.

Nicolo Barella’s low volley from Spinazzola’s cross forced Bachmann to save with his legs.

Austria had a chance to snatch the lead on the counter when Marko Arnautovic ran through on goal after muscling past Leonardo Bonucci, only to fire wildly over from the edge of the area.

Unfazed by that scare, Italy were immediately back on the attack.

Ciro Immobile was inches away from putting them ahead when the Lazio forward whipped an audacious 20-yard strike against the woodwork with Bachmann rooted to the spot.

Even putting two men on Spinazzola could not contain him and the enterprising defender cut in from the left to test Bachmann with a low drive.

For all their possession, Italy lacked the cutting edge to kill off the Austrians.

Mancini’s men almost shot themselves in the foot early in the second half when Giovanni Di Lorenzo’s needless lunge conceded a free-kick that David Alaba curled just over.

Austria were competing gamely and Marcel Sabitzer’s effort took a wicked deflection off Bonucci before flashing wide.

Arnautovic thought he had given Austria a shock lead in the 65th minute when he nodded home from Alaba’s header, but the former West Ham striker was ruled to be marginally offside after a lengthy VAR review.

Italy’s Leonardo Bonucci celebrates with teammates after the match [Carl Recine/Pool via Reuters]

Denied by VAR

Austria were denied again by VAR when their penalty appeal was rejected after Pessina clashed with Stefan Lainer.

Substitute Locatelli fluffed his chipped effort and Domenico Berardi sent a bicycle kick well over as Italy’s frustration mounted.

The match went to extra-time but it did not take long for Italy to make their mark.

The impressive Spinazzola found Chiesa, who controlled the ball and smashed in from close range five minutes into the extra half an hour.

Italy effectively ended the tie 10 minutes later when the ball fell for Pessina, and he drilled home before racing towards the corner flag and throwing himself on the turf.

But there was still time for late drama when Austria’s Sasa Kalajdzic stooped to head the ball in at the near post from a corner with a little over five minutes to go but their frantic final efforts were in vain.

Italy fans celebrate after the team’s victory on Saturday [Remo Casilli/Reuters]
Source: AFP