Italy 2-1 Belgium: Azzurri down Red Devils to take third place in Nations League
Italy, despite not being able to make it back-to-back triumphs after Euro 2020, claimed third place in the Nations League on Sunday.FotMob - 3 months ago
Nicolo Barella and Domenico Berardi struck in the second half as Italy defeated Belgium 2-1 to claim third place at the 2021 Nations League Finals on Sunday.
Roberto Martinez's side, who let slip a two-goal lead to lose to France on Thursday, were denied twice by the woodwork either side of Barella's volley, which gave the reigning European champions the lead just a minute after the interval.
Berardi then scored from the penalty spot to add a second for Roberto Mancini's team, who had their record 37-game unbeaten run ended by Spain in Wednesday's semi-final, before Charles de Ketelaere netted a late consolation.
Italy banished any demons after their first competitive loss on home soil since 1999 while Belgium - having faltered in a Euro 2020 quarter-final against the same opponents - may now have to wait until the 2022 World Cup to inflict revenge.
Federico Chiesa blasted the first chance of the contest narrowly over from a tight angle before a deflected effort from Berardi was parried away by Thibaut Courtois.
Toby Alderweireld's near-post header then forced Gianluigi Donnarumma's first save, but the Italy goalkeeper could only stand and watch as Alexis Saelemaekers curled onto the crossbar moments later.
Barella responded by sending a speculative long-range effort over before Chiesa was excellently denied by Courtois' legs on the stroke of half-time.
Courtois, however, was no match for Barella's right-footed volley straight after the break, the midfielder finding the bottom corner to open the scoring.
Michy Batshuayi almost immediately drew Belgium level, his right-footed drive cannoning into the bar, before Timothy Castagne needlessly fouled Chiesa to concede a penalty, one Berardi converted despite Courtois getting a hand to the effort.
Yannick Carrasco struck the right-hand post and while De Ketelaere did roll through Donnarumma's legs to score, Belgium were unable to find a late leveller.
What does it mean? Italy respond after rare setback
Mancini will have been disappointed that his side's world-record unbeaten run came to an end against Luis Enrique's classy Spain outfit in midweek. However, Italy responded well to back up their European Championship success and claim yet another medal, albeit this time bronze.
In contrast, Martinez's side - despite having 60 per cent possession in the contest – end another tournament without profiting on what has been labelled a 'golden generation' for the country.
While Barella may claim the plaudits for his goal, Manuel Locatelli pulled the strings in Italy's midfield in place of Marco Verratti and Jorginho, who did come on as a second-half substitute.
The Juventus midfielder completed a team-high 28 passes in the opposing team's half, plus he enjoyed a team-leading 72 touches as he went up against Belgium's hard-working midfield pairing of Axel Witsel and Youri Tielemans.
A growing presence for both Juventus and Italy, Chiesa may well have been disappointed with his finishing against Belgium.
Including the glorious first-half opportunity he wasted, the 23-year-old had a game-high six attempts – half of Italy's entire tally during proceedings – but just two of those were on target.
Italy return to action in their World Cup qualifier at home to Switzerland on November 12, while Belgium host Estonia the following day.