LONDON, United Kingdom, Jun 26 – Substitutes Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina struck in extra-time as Italy beat battling Austria 2-1 to reach the quarter-finals of Euro 2020 at Wembley on Saturday.
The two teams were locked at 0-0 after 90 minutes in London, with Italy enjoying the better of the first half and Austria coming back strongly in the second period.
But Chiesa made the crucial breakthrough early in extra-time and another goal from Pessina set up a quarter-final against the winners of Sunday’s tie between Belgium and holders Portugal, despite late drama.
“We knew we had to suffer because Austria are the typical side who do not allow (you) to play well,” said Italy boss Roberto Mancini.
“The substitutes made the difference for us, but everybody gave their best tonight. I’m happy because the lads gave everything to win even when we were tired.”
Having emerged as Group A winners with a 100 percent record after playing all three of their games in Rome, Italy were on the road for the first time in the tournament.
Mancini made seven changes from the side that beat Wales as Marco Verratti started instead of Manuel Locatelli in midfield, while Giorgio Chiellini again missed out with a hamstring injury.
After belting out a rousing rendition of their national anthem with ample backing from the largely Italian crowd, the Azzurri made a lively start.
Leonardo Spinazzola’s buccaneering bursts from left-back were a constant threat and he had Italy’s first sight of goal with a blast wide from an acute angle.
Nicolo Barella’s low volley from Spinazzola’s cross forced Daniel Bachmann to save with his legs.
Ciro Immobile was inches away from putting Italy ahead when the Lazio forward whipped an audacious 20-yard strike against the woodwork with Bachmann rooted to the spot.
For all their possession, Italy lacked the cutting edge to kill off the Austrians.
– VAR denies Austria –
Marko Arnautovic thought he had given Austria a shock lead in the 65th minute when he nodded home from David Alaba’s header, but the former West Ham striker was ruled to be marginally offside after a lengthy VAR review.
Substitute Locatelli fluffed his chipped effort and Domenico Berardi sent a bicycle kick well over as Italy’s frustration mounted.
The sides were locked at 0-0 at the end of normal time but it did not take long for Italy to make their mark in extra-time.
The impressive Spinazzola crossed from the left and Chiesa controlled the ball and rifled home with his left foot five minutes into the extra half-hour.
“It’s never too late to come on from the bench,” said Chiesa after the match.
“The credit goes to the coach because everyone is always ready, we’re a squad of 26 starters.”
Italy effectively ended the tie 10 minutes later when Francesco Acerbi shepherded the ball to Pessina, who finished superbly before racing towards the corner flag and throwing himself on the turf.
But there was still time for late drama when Austria’s Sasa Kalajdzic stooped to head the ball in at the near post from a corner with a little over five minutes to go.
That was the first goal Italy had conceded since October 2020, ending a run of 1,168 minutes without conceding.
But ultimately they did enough to win and in the process set a new national record of 31 games unbeaten.
The side that failed even to qualify for the 2018 World Cup will fancy their chances of going all the way.