Euro 2016: Belgium vs Italy… Live!

by | Jun 12, 2016

Time, then, for this evening’s match. A main event, if you will, and this is one that I consider just about impossible to call. Belgium have been simultaneously near the top of the FIFA rankings and not quite the sum of their parts for a while now, and big things are expected of them at this tournament. The brunt of the blame for what is considered to be a degree of underachievement has been borne by coach Marc Wilmots, who has stood accused of not being able to get the best from the lavish talents at his disposal. Tonight is his opportunity to set the record straight in that respect.

Italy, on the other hand, remain something of a curate’s egg, but for different reasons altogether to Belgium. On paper, this is a weak Italian squad, by their own lofty standards. The seam of world class talent that has so often been riven into their football in the past doesn’t quite seem to be there at the moment. And yet. And yet. In 1982, when they won the World Cup, they did so from a position of no-one giving them a jot of a chance. In 2006, when they did the same, they went into the tournament with similarly low expectations. And that’s the thing about Italy. They’re the world masters of pulling something out of the fire when they need to. I’ll be back shortly with some team news, and then we’ll get on with some calcio. Deal? Deal.

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Ian June 13, 20167:24 pm

Okay, let’s get this started, then. Belgium vs Italy. And first things first, here’s some hot team-sheet action.

Belgium: Courtois, Ciman, Alderweireld, Vermaelen, Vertonghen, Witsel, Nainggolan, Fellaini, De Bruyne, Hazard, R. Lukaku.

Italy: Buffon, Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini, Candreva, Parolo, de Rossi, Giaccherini, Darmian, Pelle, Eder.

Ian June 13, 20167:28 pm

So, on the subject of Italy, then. It’s been almost forty years since Italy won their one and only European Championships, which they managed on home soil in 1968, beating Yugoslavia by two goals to nil in a replay, after drawing the first match one-all (penalty shoot-outs were first introduced for the 1970 World Cup finals, of course). No Serie A club got beyond the last sixteen of the Champions League or Europa League in 2015/16 – the country’s worst performance in Europe for a decade and a half.

Ian June 13, 20167:33 pm

Belgium, meanwhile, haven’t got past the group stages of this competition in a long, long time. Beaten by West Germany in the semi-finals of the 1972 tournament, they reached the final eight years later, when it took a goal from Horst Hrubesch two minutes from time to seal a two-one win against them, again by West Germany. They haven’t got past the group stage of the competition since then. They were knocked out in the group stages in 1984, and again, as co-hosts, in 2000. This is their first appearance in the finals since then.

George Young June 13, 20167:44 pm

Good evening from northern Italy where hopes are not high. Whilst the defence, drawn from all-conquering Juventus, is strong, the rest of the squad is somewhat lacking. Goals do not come easily to this Italy side, with Graziano Pelle the main striker supported by Eder who has only scored once since moving to Inter in January.
Without Verratti or Marchisio, both injured, there is little creativity in the midfield, as highlighted by the occupant of the number 10 shirt: Thiago Motta. They do have an astute manager though, albeit a conservative one who has resisted the option of playing flair players like Lorenzo Insigne in favour of hard-workers such as Emmanuele Giaccherini.

George Young June 13, 20167:52 pm

The big question though: what will they do with these giant shirts after the tournament?

Ian June 13, 20167:54 pm

Look out for Lilliput making their debut at the 2020 finals, I reckon. (Not implausible, if Australia are allowed to enter Eurovision.)

Ian June 13, 20167:55 pm

Here’s a tweet and a half (presuming it to be true – I haven’t done the maths myself):

Ian June 13, 20167:55 pm

Here’s a tweet and a half (presuming it to be true – I haven’t done the maths myself):

Ian June 13, 20167:57 pm

Italy, there, second only to Brazil in the Bonkers National Anthems World Cup.

George Young June 13, 20167:57 pm

Given they have three survivors from the 2006 World Cup winning team starting tonight, that stat is very probably true.

George Young June 13, 20167:59 pm

The final refrain of “we’re ready to die, Italy is calling” – amazingly, written before the fascist era.

George Young June 13, 20168:01 pm

Excellent lower-league kick off from Italy immediately resulting in a throw-in to the opposition.

Ian June 13, 20168:02 pm

I’m a little bit angry at Italy being in their change kit this evening, although it is really lovely.

George Young June 13, 20168:11 pm

Italy doing their best to prove how little I know about football by starting in very lively fashion, creating a few half-chances. Belgium get the first decent shot from the ludicrously-coiffeured Naingolan, whose 20-yard drive is beaten away by Gigi Buffon.

Ian June 13, 20168:13 pm

I think the worry for Italy is how they keep going as the evening wears on. As somebody who has felt this pain, I can attest that once you get past thirty, the flesh starts to get weaker than I’d ever want to admit.

The key is balance. Experience vs stamina.

Ian June 13, 20168:14 pm

I think the worry for Italy is how they keep going as the evening wears on. As somebody who has felt this pain, I can attest that once you get past thirty, the flesh starts to get weaker than you’d ever want to admit.

The key is balance. Experience vs stamina.

Ian June 13, 20168:17 pm

How is Gianluigi Buffon five and half years younger than me? HOW IS THIS EVEN POSSIBLE?

George Young June 13, 20168:19 pm

His debut for Italy came NINETEEN years ago. So long ago, the game was on Channel 4.

Ian June 13, 20168:26 pm

A thirty yarder from Radja Nainggolan fizzes wide of Buffon’s right hand post. Nainggolan’s hair is a disgrace, by the way. He looks like Wurzel Gummidge’s cyberpunk nephew.

George Young June 13, 20168:28 pm

Italy continue to look lively but Belgium are growing into this, helped by trying to get Hazard and de Bruyne on the ball rather than just launching long hoofs from the back. Hazard does seem the most unlikely of captains.

Ian June 13, 20168:30 pm

Pelle curls a shot around the post for Italy. Not quite enough on it to get it all the way around, though. This hasn’t been a bad start from Italy. Belgium, for the time being, still don’t quite look the sum of their parts

Ian June 13, 20168:33 pm

Goal for Italy! All the experience of the Italian team, there – a magnificent ball from the halfway line from Panucci and Giaccherini, brings the ball down with one touch, and places it tidily past Courtois with the next.

George Young June 13, 20168:36 pm

In the excitement, Antonio Conte seems have suffered a bloody nose.

Giaccherini had an age to put that one away but wisely decided not to hit it straight at Courtois.

The Chelsea keeper in action again to claw away a thump from Lazio’s Candreva.

Ian June 13, 20168:37 pm

Very nearly a second goal for Italy. Belgium’s defence at sixes and sevens, and a free header from Pelle drops just wide of the post.

George Young June 13, 20168:38 pm

That was a glaring miss by Pelle.

Fellaini goes in clumsily on De Rossi: two men who know their way around a red card.

Ian June 13, 20168:41 pm

There’s a bit of a conundrum for Conte ahead, now. His instinct may well be to sit back and hold their one goal lead, but as the evening goes on I still think that things will get more difficult for Italy and Belgium are on the rack right now. If it were me, I’d want the team to push on and try to kill this game dead. England and Ireland have both already proved that a one goal lead might not be worth much in this tournament. But then again, if I were a football manager, I’d play the WM formation just to see what it looks like in the modern game and get the sack after one match.

George Young June 13, 20168:43 pm

Having scored one, Giaccherini now saves one, dispossessing De Bruyne as he got free in the area.

Italy do have some pacey players on the bench, potential to stick one on for counter-attacking in the second half.

Ian June 13, 20168:44 pm

I’ve only just noticed that Buffon is wearing one yellow glove and one pink glove. That would bring me out in hives. Wouldn’t be able to cope with it.

Ian June 13, 20168:46 pm

I’m calling these as the greatest design of goalkeeper gloves of all-time, by the way.

George Young June 13, 20168:48 pm

A breathless first half, neither side in real control and the game much the better for it (take note, Spain).

Italy deserve to be ahead, Belgium threatening but the fact Ian didn’t notice Buffon’s odd gloves until the 40th minute says a lot about their efforts.

Ian June 13, 20168:51 pm

Half-Time: Belgium 0-1 Italy. As time goes on, I’m more and more persuaded of the power of muscle memory. Players last longer because of better fitness levels and Italy have rolled back the years in this first half, showing the very best of their experience with a measured performance in which their confidence grew visibly after the first ten minutes. As for Belgium… well, there’s eleven great players out there, but they don’t look very much like a team at the moment. Ever was it thus, with “golden generations”. Time for my half-time ablutions and a mug of Bovril. Back in fifteen.

George Young June 13, 20168:56 pm

Half-time breaking news: reports tonight that Italy outcast Mario Balotelli was involved in a disturbance on Saturday night which ended with someone losing three fingers. It seems the injured person may have racially abused Balotelli and then was injured by a bus whilst escaping. Odd.

Ian June 13, 20169:08 pm

Poor old Mario. I don’t know the details of this story, but that’s a career that’s going down the drain very quickly indeed, and it’s been telegraphed for some time.

Edward June 13, 20169:09 pm

Belgium have been horse turd. This is my in-depth tactical analysis.

George Young June 13, 20169:10 pm

I hope Italy’s players are calmer than the TV commentators (hint: they almost certainly are) who are convinced they are going to regret missing all these chances.

Ian June 13, 20169:11 pm

Lukaku – who got slaughtered by Thierry Henry and Gianluca Vialli at half-time – gets away on the left and loops the ball over Buffon, but also over the crossbar.

George Young June 13, 20169:12 pm

Now Pelle gets a header on target but Courtois goes full-length to tip it away. This is the game of the tournament so far.

Ian June 13, 20169:13 pm

+++EDEN HAZARD IS PLAYING KLAXON+++

A shot from the edge of the penalty area, straight down Buffon’s throat.

George Young June 13, 20169:19 pm

Conte shows his tactical flexibility by replacing one right-back playing wide left with another: De Sciglio on for Darmian.

Darmian is on a very short list of Italian players whose name doesn’t end in a vowel.

Edward June 13, 20169:23 pm

This was the Italy team the last time they lost a competitive match against Belgium, a European Championship quarter-final in Anderlecht on 13th May 1972:

Albertosi, Burgnich, Facchetti, Spinosi, Cera, Benetti, Bertini (Capello), De Sisti, Boninsegna, Riva, Mazzola.

Buffon was on the bench.

Ian June 13, 20169:23 pm

Italy are controlling the midfield with a vice-like grip at the moment. Their positional play has been outstanding – every time the ball is pushed more than ten or twelve yards, you can see the players moving into position for where it’s going to be. They’re beating Belgium with experience at the moment.

(Just watch Belgium score in the next two minutes, now)

Edward June 13, 20169:25 pm

Imagine if England could play with the assurance, technique and composure of Italy or Germany. What kind of freakish parallel universe would that be?

I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like it.
George Young June 13, 20169:27 pm

Pelle appears to have broken/dislocated a finger, however it seems he’ll carry on. Italy starting to drop deep now, perhaps legs starting to get tired, perhaps innate Italian caution coming to the fore.

Edward June 13, 20169:27 pm

Belgium have not had the final ball at all this evening. De Bruyne has been particularly poor. That said, Bonucci and Chiellini have been magnificent.

Ian June 13, 20169:28 pm

I wouldn’t worry about not liking it. The likelihood of it happening in the next hundred years is minimal, to say the least.

Edward June 13, 20169:30 pm

Italian tactical plan 101:

Phase 1: surprise opponents by being better than expected
Phase 2: take deserved lead
Phase 3: assuredly defend lead until tiredness sets in
Phase 4: cheat, foul and niggle your way to the final whistle

Ian June 13, 20169:31 pm

Lukaku finally put out of his misery by being substituted. He’s had a terrible evening, a shadow on his Premier League self.

George Young June 13, 20169:31 pm

How did you get hold of that Edward? It’s classified information.

George Young June 13, 20169:32 pm

Eder, who incredibly is still on the pitch having done nothing, commits a textbook cynical foul to stop a counter-attack, is booked and immediately substituted for Ciro Immobile.

Edward June 13, 20169:32 pm

I mugged Antonio Conte for it in the excitement when Italy scored. Managed to get an elbow in as well, hence the nosebleed.

Edward June 13, 20169:33 pm

The trouble with Ciro Immobile is, his movement

OH YEAH. I WENT THERE.

George Young June 13, 20169:34 pm

You may be surprised to learn that Immobile is the Italian word for Immobile.

George Young June 13, 20169:35 pm

Bonucci joins Chiellini in the book for chopping down Origi. Italy very much into part 4 of their tactical plan now.

Thaigo Motta replaces Daniele De Rossi.

Ian June 13, 20169:36 pm

Those fitness levels are starting to show, now. Belgium are fairly comfortably on top and Italy are now heavily reliant on taps to the ankle to disrupt the flow of play. But Belgium haven’t hardly created anything since Lukaku chucked in a floater a little more than twenty minutes ago.

I’m all over players having names that describe them perfectly, by the way.

Edward June 13, 20169:36 pm

I don’t think footballers should be allowed to have mohican haircuts until they have won at least one major tournament.

George Young June 13, 20169:39 pm

The equaliser is coming. Origi heads over from close range, Belgium swarming and Italy doing the English thing of being unable or unwilling to keep the ball.

Ian June 13, 20169:39 pm

Finally, a chance for Belgium. De Bruyne crosses from the right and Origi, who’s stretching a little too much, heads over from eight or nine yards or so.

Edward June 13, 20169:39 pm

I feel that the recent success of the German football team is a direct consequence of the DfB never once using the words “Golden Generation” to describe them. Golden Generation is the kiss of death.

George Young June 13, 20169:41 pm

Immobile gives nominative determinism a kick in the teeth, picking up a loose ball and sprinting 50 yards before letting fly but Courtois saves.

Ian June 13, 20169:43 pm

That was a terrific save from Courtois, though it was close to him. One-handed always a bit of a gamble.

Edward June 13, 20169:44 pm

Thibault Courtois reminds me a little of Novak Djokovic.

Edward June 13, 20169:46 pm

I should have known that this Belgium team would flatter to deceive. Manchester United only play Fellaini because they don’t have anyone else, whereas he is one of Belgium’s key players.

Ergo, Belgium are not as good as Manchester United.

That is football maths.

George Young June 13, 20169:47 pm

Huge chance for Belgium! However, Origi completely misses the ball and Fellaini can’t react in time to stab it home.

George Young June 13, 20169:49 pm

Isn’t Moussa Dembele on the bench for Belgium? Seems a strange decision.

George Young June 13, 20169:50 pm

Game over! Belgium caught out on the break, the ball worked to Candreva who draws Courtois and then crosses for Pelle to whallop home on the volley.

Impressive turn of pace from Buffon to join in the celebrations.

Ian June 13, 20169:50 pm

Goal! Belgium 0-2 Italy! Pelle, on the volley after Italy break on the left and then switch to the right. Pelle’s finish was absolutely superb, and the goal comes right on the final whistle.

Edward June 13, 20169:53 pm

Belgium have been absolute horse turd tonight. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. I knew they would be, too. You can’t win international football tournaments with 11 individuals.

George Young June 13, 20169:54 pm

A both surprising and impressive win for Italy. They rode their luck towards the end and picked up 4 bookings but probably deserved the win against a Belgium side who just don’t look anything like a team.

Huge shock as players who look good in the Premier League don’t look so hot at a major international tournament.

Ian June 13, 201610:00 pm

Full-Time: Belgium 0-2 Italy – What a magnificent performance of Italy, who pulled all their experience out of the hat to close the game down over the course of the last twenty minutes or so, and for all the superstar status of this Belgium team, they were let down on too many occasions by silly little things like being unable to get the ball under control and so on. They have a real problem now. With Sweden and Ireland on a point apiece, they really need a win from one of those two matches now, with a goal difference of minus two following this evening. Magnificent game of football, I have to say, as was the Ireland vs Sweden match earlier tonight. Just what we needed after, you know, all that over the weekend.