Lorenzo Insigne fired Italy into the Euro 2020 semi-finals as perennial favourites Belgium were once again cast in the role of bridesmaid.
The Napoli frontman’s sumptuous 44th-minute strike ultimately settled a thrilling heavyweight battle in Munich as FIFA’s number one-ranked side once again exited a major tournament without the prize they crave.
Nicolo Barella had fired Roberto Mancini’s side into a 31st-minute lead which Insigne doubled and although Romelu Lukaku’s penalty in first-half stoppage time had given the Belgians hope, they could not get themselves back on level terms as they slipped to a 2-1 defeat.
Their reward is a last-four showdown with Spain at Wembley on Tuesday, with Luis Enrique’s men having secured their passage in dramatic fashion.
The Spaniards had to endure a nerve-shredding penalty shoot-out to reach the semi-finals as keeper Yann Sommer’s heroics for 10-man Switzerland proved in vain.
The Swiss hero of the previous round, in which when they knocked out world champions France, was on top form once again during a tense 120 minutes during which he recovered from seeing team-mate Denis Zakaria deflect Jordi Alba’s eighth-minute shot past him to keep his side in it with a string of fine saves.
Xherdan Shaqiri’s second-half strike restored parity and despite Remo Freuler’s 77th-minute dismissal for a challenge on Gerard Moreno, the scoreline remained 1-1 at the end of extra time.
However, it was Switzerland who blinked in the shoot-out, missing with three of their four attempts to lose 3-1.
Italy’s victory over Belgium extended their unbeaten run to 32 games dating back to a 1-0 Nations League defeat by Portugal in September 2018. In the process, the Azzurri also stretched their winning sequence in European Championship qualifiers and finals matches to a record 15.
Switzerland defied the odds to take Spain all the way, but ultimately fell tamely at the final hurdle. The shoot-out could not have got off to a better start for them when Sergio Busquets fired Spain’s first attempt against the post and Mario Gavranovic took full advantage. However, although Sommer saved Rodri’s attempt, Dani Olmo, Gerard Moreno and Mikel Oyarzabal all scored as Unai Simon denied Fabian Schar and Manuel Akanji before Ruben Vargas blasted over the bar.
Italy full-back Leonardo Spinazzola’s Euros appears to have come to a premature end after he was carried off on a stretcher as his side battled to victory over Belgium. Manager Roberto Mancini began his post-match press conference by saying: “The first thing I want to say is we’re very disappointed, we’re gutted for Leonardo Spinazzola for that injury. He didn’t deserve that because he was playing extraordinarily well. He’s been one of the best players at Euro 2020 and we are absolutely gutted and we would like to send him our best wishes.”
Germany midfielder Toni Kroos chose Friday to announce his decision to retire from international football after his country’s last-16 exit at the hands of England, in which he won his 106th cap. He said: “I would have dearly wished – and I gave everything again – that there would have been 109 internationals in the end and that this one big title, the European Championship, would have been added at the end.”
We will try to surprise them but of course we realise that to get through, all the players and the whole team, they will need to play probably the best game of their lives.
Ukraine’s Oleksandr Zinchenko on the prospect of facing England in Rome on Saturday.
Czech Republic v Denmark (quarter-final, July 3, Baku, 1700 BST)
Ukraine v England (quarter-final, July 3, Rome, 2000 BST)