With substitutes Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina scoring extra-time goals to give Italy a 2-1 triumph at Wembley on Saturday, they survived a big scare to advance to the quarter-finals of Euro 2020. The Azzurri were the standout team in a flawless group phase, but Roberto Mancini’s side struggled as they left their Roman stronghold for the first time in the tournament and they appeared to be on the verge of a shock elimination.
In the end, the adage that excellent teams find a way even when they aren’t at their best proved true as Italy extended their unbeaten streak to 31 games securing a quarter-final berth.
Austria, who were competing in the Euros for the first time rocked the Italians in the second half and Marco Arnautovic headed past Gianluigi Donnarumma, but his delight was short-lived as Italy was saved by a VAR ruling for offside.
Late in the second half, Mancini replied by bringing in four attacking substitutes, and Italy’s depth proved important in the end with superb finishes from Juventus winger Chiesa and Atalanta midfielder Pessina getting them out of jail.
After demonstrating amazing control to knock down a pass by Leonardo Spinazzola, Chiesa blasted an angled shot past Daniel Bachmann in the 95th minute. With a precise left-foot shot 10 minutes later, Pessina, who also scored against Wales, gave Italy breathing space.
The brave Austrians on the other hand were not finished. With six minutes remaining, substitute Sasa Kalajdzic scored with a diving header and Italy’s nerves were frazzled by the time the final whistle sounded. Mancini has used all but one of his 26-man team to lead Italy to the quarter-finals, the stage they reached in 2016 only to lose to Germany on penalties.
When Plan A fails, having players like Chiesa and Pessina in reserve will give Italy hope that despite Saturday’s stumble, they can win the title for the first time since 1968. Italy will play against the winner between Belgium and Portugal in the quarter-finals.