Italy’s extra-time win a reminder of knockout football’s sharp edges


f there is anything to be learned from Italy’s clash with Austria, it is that looking the business in the group stages at a major tournament counts for very little when the knockout rounds start.

On their march to the top of Group A, Italy had looked the business both on and off the pitch (just google ‘Roberto Mancini jacket’) and they’d gone from being fancied outsiders to some people’s favourites to win Euro 2020.

They were expected to brush aside Austria here at Wembley in their last-16 match, particularly given seemingly the whole of London’s Italian population had got their hands on tickets to cheer them on.

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That plan, however, did not come to fruition and instead Italy were made to battle their way past a stubborn and resilient Austria side.

They got their in the end – courtesy of substitutes Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina’s brilliant strikes in extra time – but on another night it could so easily have gone the other way, and Mancini will be thankful VAR intervened to rule out Marko Arnautovic’s second-half header for offside.

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There is a lot to like about this Italy team, from the marauding Leonardo Spinazzola at full-back to the goal-hungry striker Ciro Immobile, who seems so hellbent on scoring you suspect he’d trample over his own grandma if it meant he could find the net.

In between them is a technically gifted midfield of Jorginho, Marco Verratti and Nicolo Barella, who controlled large portions of this game with ease.

But for all their talent and quality, Italy will know they must play much better than this if they’re serious about going far in this tournament. Maybe this was the wake-up call they needed?

Austria showed how you can frustrate them by being compact and organised, while they also highlighted how catching them on the counter can be profitable too.

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