Dubai: To be able to grind out a result without playing well is the sign of a really good team and that is what Italy did last night against Austria.
They were made to work for their place in the Euro 2020 quarterfinals and this was the first time that they have really been tested. This display may have lacked the flair to which we had been treated earlier in the competition and for large spells of the game Austria were on top, especially in the second half but then in extra-time Italy’s traditional mixture of quality play and durability got them over the line.
Austria’s game plan was evident after the opening seconds – they were determined to put the Azzurri off their stride with a physical approach and it worked. Veratti was unable to dictate play in midfield while Insinge was harried off the ball. Indeed Austria proved resilient opponents and their tireless approach saw them take the match into extra-time. Italy had seen off Turkey, Switzerland and Wales with minimum fuss in the group stages but it was clear they would need to find another gear to get past the Austrians.
Roberto Mancini made several changes and the fresh legs of Chiesa and Pessina made the difference as they both got on the scoresheet but make no mistake about it, this was a real battle. Ultimately, Mancini’s side found a different way to win.
A will to win
Italy’s class may have been stifled but that old DNA that had seen them win four World Cups is still present, and it was needed; they showed intensity, work-rate, desire and a battling mindset to get into the last eight.
In the process, they set a new unbeaten record of 31 games and even though their defence was finally breached after 11 successive clean sheets, they won’t that much at all because at one point it seemed they were headed out of the tournament until VAR ruled out Arnautovic’s effort.
Sure, they were not free-flowing, but again, they found a way to get through and dug deep when it seemed they may fail. Mancini deserves praise for building a brilliant team that doesn't give in - but with Belgium or Portugal to come next, they may need to grind out another result as they will surely be tested again like they were last night.
Their flaws may have been noted, but, it will take a monumental effort to knock them out.