ON THE PODIUM

    European champions Italy secured a third place finish at the UEFA Nations League thanks to goals from Nicolo Barella and Dominico Berardi. Charles de Ketelaere pulled one back for Belgium late on but Roberto Mancini’s side held on for the win.

    The match started off at a good pace with both sides creating good chances in the first 45. Italy found a lot of joy through the wings as they were able to isolate Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen in the channels. The pace of a young Italian side with a few fringe players looking to prove themselves was causing problems for Roberto Martinez’s men.

     

     

    Belgium though grew into the game and came closest to opening the scoring when Alexis Saelemaekers struck the crossbar from outside the box. Yannick Carrasco looked especially sharp, as he did in the semi-final against France on Thursday. However, the Red Devils had their goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to thank who made multiple saves to keep them in the game.

    Courtois was helpless in the second half though as Nicolo Barella opened the scoring just two minutes after the interval. Belgium half cleared a corner to the edge of the box where Barella met the volley with technical perfection to hit the bottom left corner of the goal. Italy found things easy as Belgium pushed for an equaliser that left spaces at the back.

     

     

    A similar counter attack brought Italy’s second as Chiesa won a penalty that was thumped into the net by Berardi despite Courtois getting a good hand to it. Martinez responded by throwing on Charles de Ketelaere and Kevin De Bruyne and both substitutes combined to pull a goal back in the 86th minute as the latter played in the former who scored through Italy goalkeeper Gigi Donnarumma’s legs.

    It was too little too late for Belgium though as they were unable to put the pressure on in the final few minutes. Here are our key takeaways from the match –

    THE CHIESA SHOW

    Federico Chiesa has been one of the most improved players inn Europe over the past 18 months or so and he was in full flow on Sunday. He was causing the Belgian defence problems straight from the off with Alderweireld blocking well in the second minute. That was only a sign of things to come as he continued to find a lot of joy roaming in from the left hand side.

    The Juventus man was the connect between midfield and attack for Italy, linking well with Berardi in particular. Chiesa should have opened the scoring just before the break, having played through by a simple long ball from the back but was denied by an exceptional save by Courtois in the Belgium goal.

     

     

    The winger was at it again in the second half and played a crucial role in Italy’s second. Chiesa was up 1v1 against Timothy Castagne and beat the defender with ease before being scythed down which won the Azzurri the penalty that was dispatched with aplomb by Berardi.

     

    GOALKEEPERS SHINE

    Gigi Donnarumma and Thibaut Courtois have had contrasting club seasons but both of them showed on Sunday why they are amongst the best shot-stoppers in the world. Donnarumma has not cemented a starting spot since his move to PSG but he saved twice sharply from Alderweireld which proved to be crucial in getting Italy the bronze medals.

     

     

    Courtois on the other hand has been in exceptional form for Real Madrid and continued that run for Belgium, making important saves in the first half. He must be disappointed to have not stopped the Berardi penalty after guessing correctly and getting a hand to it but such is the life go a goalkeeper that even on days where you don’t make a mistake you end up on the losing side.

     

    SUM OF THE PARTS

    The match highlighted the difference in approach and coaching across the two sides with Italy looking far more organised and structured and reaping the rewards of that. Belgium were poor in the first half but looks much sharper after the changes made in the second period. Italy quite simply were more than the sum of their parts while Belgium continue to rely on individual brilliance.

    Kevin De Bruyne and the in-form de Ketelaere improved the Red Devils a lot but for a side with that much quality, they should be doing better. With the World Cup in Qatar just over a year away, it is clear which side amongst the two is on the rise and which side needs to make changes.

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