Belgium poses toughest test yet for Italy
Italy has been impressive so far at Euro 2020, but its toughest test is yet to come, in the form of tournament favourites Belgium.
Italy and Belgium meet in a quarter-final match on Friday (3 p.m. ET, TSN) in Munich, Germany, with the winner advancing to face either Switzerland or Spain.
“I think games like this are good to play in, because top players play in them,” Italy coach Roberto Mancini said Thursday. “Belgium is a brilliant team, they've been top of the FIFA rankings for three years.”
Belgium goes into the game with questions about the health of star midfielder Kevin De Bruyne and forward Eden Hazard. Both were injured in a 1-0 win over Portugal on Tuesday. De Bruyne was the victim of a harsh challenge from behind that appeared to injure his ankle. Hazard was replaced late in the 1-0 win, clutching his hamstring as he left the pitch.
Italy defeated Austria 2-1 in extra time on Monday to get through to the quarter-finals.
Under Mancini, the Azzurri have been playing an attacking brand of soccer that deviates from the defensive, counterattacking approach of the past.
“We'll play our own game, even though we're well aware we're going up against the best team in Europe at this moment,” Mancini said.
“To be ranked No. 1 for three years, they have to be doing something extremely well. We know this will be a very difficult game.”
No matter whether De Bruyne and Hazard are available for Belgium, Italy will still have to contend with striker Romelu Lukaku, who helped Inter Milan claim the Serie A title this past season for the first time in 11 years.
Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon couldn't find a hole deep enough to crawl into after his blunder against Croatia at the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen on Monday.
When the ball was passed back to him midway through the first half, Simon let it skip past and into the net, giving Croatia a 1-0 lead in the Round of 16 game.
The error proved inconsequential in the end, as Spain won 5-3 and moved on to a quarter-final date with Switzerland on Friday in St. Petersburg, Russia.
At the time, Spanish fans in attendance urged Simon, 24, to put the mistake behind him, chanting his name in encouragement.
“That was a dream for me, because after you make a mistake like that, you start to think negative thoughts,” Simon said on Wednesday.
Spain rallied to tie the game later in the half and led 3-1 with 13 minutes to play. Croatia, however, battled back with a goal in the 85th minute and another six minutes into injury time to tie the game and send it into 30 minutes of extra time.
“Soccer is a game that's full of errors, but when you're a goalkeeper and you make an error like that, it's magnified because it results in a goal,” Simon said.
“When something like that happens, you have to understand that soccer is like that. You can't spend one or two minutes wondering why something like this happened. Fortunately, it didn't cost us the game.”