Euro 2016: How Italy produced a defensive masterclass to beat Belgium

Antonio Conte's use of the 3-5-2 formation helped the Azzurri get of to a winning start in a tough looking group E

Euro 2016: How Italy produced a defensive masterclass to beat Belgium
Emanuele Giaccherini Celebrates The Opening Goal (Picture from Eurosport)

No country does defending quite like the Italians. Organisation, discipline and resolve are just a couple of words which you would associate with the renowned Azzurri and all were demonstrated in their opening game at Euro 2016.

Antonio Conte’s Italy were at their efficient best as they beat a much fancied Belgium side 2-0 in Lyon to go top of group E.

Conte, who will leave the national side to join Chelsea after the tournament in France, demonstrated the type of tactical nous which we are likely to see at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League next season.

Conte shows tactical nous

Italy effectively used a diverse 3-5-2 formation to beat the Belgians, who were in contrast disappointing considering the vast pool of talent manager Marc Wilmots has at his disposal.

Goals from Emanuele Giaccherini and Southampton’s Graziano Pelle sealed the victory for the men in blue, who displayed tremendous passion in their celebrations at the full time whistle.

At one stage, emotions became so elevated that Conte cut his noise when celebrating Giaccherini’s 32nd minute opener. It occurred when Leonardo Bonucci played a delicious pass over the Belgium defence before the Sunderland midfielder side-footed the ball past Thibaut Courtois.

The very fact that Conte is managing to extract a tune from Giaccherini demonstrates the man management skills the current Italian boss clearly possess.

Giaccherini has failed to set the Premier League alight at Sunderland since he arrived there in 2013, and comes into these Championships off the back of a season long loan spell at Bologna.

Italians demonstrate good team spirit

Yet Giaccherini has flourished for the Azzurri and played a major role in a hard-working three man midfield alongside Daniele De Rossi and Marco Parolo, as the Italian’s put one foot in the knock-out stages.

The experienced defensive trio of Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci barely put a foot wrong and played in sync throughout the game - just as you’d expect from players who play with each other week in week out at Serie A champions Juventus.

Bonucci was particularly eye-catching, making a series of interceptions and regulary stepping out with the ball to start attacks, while veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon looked as assured as ever at the age of 38.

Belgium fail to live up to expectations

Romelu Lukaku was kept very quiet throughout the game (Picture from Eurosport)
Romelu Lukaku was kept very quiet throughout the game (Picture from Eurosport)

Despite his evident talent Belgium and Everton striker Romelu Lukaku barely had a kick before he was subsisted in the second half, while fellow Premier League stars Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne were also anonymous for most of the game.

Even so, as we have already seen in this tournament, a one goal lead is often a very frail one, whether a team appears comfortable or not. And Belgium should drawn level through substitute Divock Origi - who missed two great chances.

That could have detracted from an impressive introduction to the tournament for the Italian’s, whose attacking and energetic fullbacks Antonio Candreva and Matteo Darmian were key in both attack and defence. The latter was replaced by Mattia De Sciglio in the second half.

The Italian’s did show signs of frustration in the final 10 minutes when the received a couple of bookings for late challenges.

However, they sealed the victory courtesy of Pelle’s strike in stoppage time. The forward also pulled his weight in an impressive team performance and held the ball up well for long periods.

Italy next take on Sweden on June 17 in Toulouse while Belgium face Ireland in Boudeaux on June 18.