By Andy Jones
- Fellaini starts Belgium
- Darmian in starting line-up for Italy
Much of the talk before this game was about Belgium’s star players against a Italian side that wasn’t the greatest.
The first real heavyweight clash of the finals saw Belgium take on Italy in Lyon. Belgium, full of star names against an unfancied Italy, this result was nailed on right?
Darmian was playing in a wing back role as part of a hugely experienced Italian defence containing chiellini, Bonucci and Barzagli in front of the legendary Buffon in goal.
The Belgians, tipped by some as tournament favourites had Fellaini in midfield alongside a host of established Premier league stars.
An open first period saw both teams on the attack, but Belgium were getting little joy out of the formidable Azzurri backline and it was an unlikely scorer in the form of Sunderland’s Emanuele Giaccherini who broke clear to slot a cool finish past Courtois.
Fellaini was his usual busy self, breaking down the play in midfield, and was far from Belgium’s worst player.
It was bigger names in Nainggolan, a rumoured target for Chelsea, and the ineffective Lukaku who were hooked by the manager. Darmian also made way after a steady if unspectacular 58 minutes.
Belgium threw on Origi, Mertens and Carrasco, but the Italians stood firm.
Yes there were some classic Italian ‘fouls’, taking a yellow card to prevent the Belgians breaking through midfield, but it’s that sort of defending that wins you games.
In the dying seconds, the Italians broke, the chance looked to have gone, but Candreva kept a cool head on the right hand side of the box and cut the ball back for Southampton’s Pelle to volley home and start wild celebrations inside the stadium.
The much fancied Belgium will have to play much better if they are to progress in this tournament, a team of individuals who you feel don’t really gel as a unit, compared to the Italians, written off by many but who showed desire, determination and unity to claim all three points.
The other game in the group saw Republic of Ireland drawing 1-1 with Sweden. The next fixtures in group see Italy playing Sweden and Belgium playing Republic of Ireland.