Belgium beat Italy to reach Euro 2022 quarter-finals

Belgium now face Sweden in the last eight

A tournament that began in embarrassment for Italy ends in unhappy underachievement. Quarter-finalists in the last World Cup prop up Group D in Euro 2022, winless and at times hapless. Their competition started with the concession of five goals in the opening half against France. It brought them a solitary point and culminated in defeat to Belgium.

Yet a low for Le Azzurre represented a historic high for the Belgian Red Flames. The euphoric scenes at the final whistle signified that this was their finest day in the European Championships. Just a second ever win booked them a maiden spot in the last eight and a date with Sweden in Leigh on Friday. Tine de Caigny’s well-struck winner enabled them to leapfrog Iceland in the standings.

Perhaps it was symbolic of Italy’s Euros that the decider stemmed from an error, with Martina Rosucci the guilty party. Some of their problems have been self inflicted. They have had much to rue and that abysmal first 45 minutes against France meant their goal difference took a battering and, in turn, meant a draw could benefit Belgium, but not them.

As it was, the Belgians mustered the game’s best finish to secure victory. Italy accumulated 20 shots, exerting pressure in the last 40 minutes as they overloaded with attackers, but the lack of a clinical touch cost them. So, too, did a mistake. De Caigny drilled in a shot from the edge of the box after Rosucci failed to clear, connecting only with thin air in a costly miskick.

Italy almost mustered an immediate riposte, the captain Cristiana Girelli curling a shot against the underside of the bar. Girelli represented their major threat and her positive start signalled a welcome change for her side. Italy had been behind after nine minutes to France and three to Iceland so they could savour the sight of parity for rather longer. Indeed, they might have led. Girelli had a shot saved after 60 seconds. Manuela Giugliano showed a willingness to let fly from long range, twice connecting sweetly, before she was taken off at half-time.

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Yet there was an unwanted difference with previous matches for Italy. While they had lost both first halves, by an aggregate score of 6-0, they had won both second halves. There was no hat-trick. Instead, Belgium summoned a strike they had threatened sporadically before then.

Hannah Eurlings had blazed over and Elena Dhont had a close-range effort held in the opening stages. It came from a cross by Tessa Wullaert, who was at the heart of many of Belgium’s better moves. She struck the post with a ferocious effort in injury time and, in a game where too many of the chances were products of misplaced passes, looked the most creative player.

Italy manager Milena Bertolini had brought Barbara Bonansea into the starting 11 after her catalytic second-half display against Iceland. She responded with a surging run and a shot into the side netting without replicating her excellence as a replacement.

But it had been theme. Bertolini’s substitutions have had an impact in earlier games and there were hints of a sequel. The replacement Valentina Giacinti came agonisingly close to equalising, with a deflected shot that rolled just past the far post. Italy had a flurry of corners but ended strewn out on the Manchester pitch, in disbelief and disappointment that their Euro 2022 went so wrong.

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