Italy clinched the bronze medal in the 2021 UEFA Nations League on Sunday afternoon, earning a 2-1 victory over Belgium at San Siro.
Both teams started with good intensity, and had chances to open the scoring. Domenico Berardi tested Thibaut Courtois from distance, and Alexis Saelemaekers hit the crossbar with a bending strike from the edge of the box.
The best chance of the first half came in injury time, when a delightful Berardi cross-field ball found Chiesa with just Courtois to beat, but the Belgian shot-stopper somehow turned the shot around the post with his toe.
Italy needed only two minutes of the second half to take the lead, when Nicolo Barella drilled home a volley from just outside the area to put the hosts in control. Roberto Martinez’s men imposed themselves on the game after this setback and went in search of an equaliser, with Michy Batshuayi grazing the crossbar with a vicious hit from a tight angle.
But the Azzurri were handed the chance to double their advantage on 64 minutes, when Chiesa was fouled in the box by Timothy Castagne, and Berardi stepped up to face Courtois. The Italian winger squeezed his penalty beyond the goalkeeper, who will feel he should have done better having guessed the right way.
Toby Alderweireld then forced Gianluigi Donnarumma into a good save and Yannick Carrasco hit the post, but they managed to add some tension to the final five minutes after Charles De Ketelaere slotted the ball through the Italian goalkeeper’s legs to pull Belgium within one.
Italy clung on to claim the victory however, confirming that they finished in third place in the 2021 Nations League.
Let’s check out the player ratings.
Gianluigi Donnarumma (GK) – 6/10 – Rooted to the spot as Saelemaekers curled one towards the top corner, but the Italian was saved by the crossbar. Dropped a cross but made up for it with a good stop from Alderweireld. Nutmegged on the goal.
Giovanni Di Lorenzo (RB) – 7/10 – Bit into a challenge on the half-hour mark and received a caution for his troubles. No need in such a tranquil area of the pitch.
Francesco Acerbi (CB) – 7/10 – Kept his concentration throughout, reading the game and snapping in to dispossess the Belgian forwards before a threat could materialise.
Alessandro Bastoni (CB) – 8/10 – So much quality ahead of him in the centre-back role, but showed exactly why Inter supporters are so keen to see Bastoni remain at San Siro for years to come.
Emerson Palmieri (LB) – 7/10 – Can never replicate the energy which Leonardo Spinazzola offers on the left, but did a good job of nullifying Belgium’s threat and pushing on when possible.
Nicolo Barella (CM) – 8/10 – Drove forward with the ball at his feet and fizzed a rising strike towards goal, which whistled over the crossbar. Broke the deadlock with a clinical volley.
Manuel Locatelli (CM) – 7/10 – Looked at home at the base of Italy’s midfield, retaining possession and moving it quickly to teammates to thrust their side forward.
Lorenzo Pellegrini (CM) – 7/10 – Handed a rare start for the Azzurri, and linked up nicely. Not allowed the freedom to roam in spaces like he’s awarded at Roma. Showed nice touches on the ball.
Domenico Berardi (RW) – 7/10 – Delightful ball over the top to find Chiesa, but Courtois came to Belgium’s rescue. Tucked away his chance from the spot just about.
Giacomo Raspadori (ST) – 6/10 – Saw the goal gape before him and snapped a shot towards the near post, but Castagne covered across excellently. First to be subbed off.
Federico Chiesa (LW) – 8/10 – Handed the best chance of the first half, but Courtois did enough to tip it wide. Won the penalty for the second goal with a rapid change of pace. An unstoppable force.
Moise Kean (ST) – 7/10
Bryan Cristante (CM) – 6/10
Jorginho (CM) – 6/10
Federico Bernardeschi (RW) – N/A
Lorenzo Insigne (LW) – N/A
Thibaut Courtois (GK) – 6/10 – Watched Berardi’s first-half effort all the way, and had no issues even with the deflection. Produced an unbelievable save to tip Chiesa’s shot around the post. No chance in getting across to Barella’s volley.
Toby Alderweireld (CB) – 6/10 – Found himself free at the front post and flicked a header towards goal, but Donnarumma saved easily. Earned a yellow card for throwing the ball in the referee’s direction.
Jason Denayer (CB) – 7/10 – Took a risk with a sliding challenge in the box on Di Lorenzo, but did so cleanly. A decent performance in a losing side.
Jan Vertonghen (CB) – 6/10 – Went flying into a very mistimed challenge inside 15 minutes and had to walk a tightrope for the rest of the match. Lucky that his raised arm on Di Lorenzo went unnoticed soon after.
Timothy Castagne (RWB) – 5/10 – Covered his centre-backs well to fly across the penalty area and stop Raspadori from getting a shot on target. Lulled in by Chiesa and committed the foul for the penalty – daft.
Axel Witsel (CM) – 6/10 – Protected his backline expertly, using his experience to win free kicks in the right areas – and concede them, when necessary.
Youri Tielemans (CM) – 6/10 – Kept the ball moving nicely when Belgium held possession, and rarely looked like giving it away to the opposition. Lost his grip on the game in the second half.
Yannick Carrasco (LWB) – 7/10 – So good in this role, knowing exactly when to go forward and when to hold his position. Almost brought Belgium back into the game but hit the post.
Alexis Saelemaekers (RW) – 6/10 – Did everything right by bending his effort from the edge of the box, but it rebounded away off the woodwork. Close.
Michy Batshuayi (ST) – 7/10 – Showed some smart build-up and hold-up play to bring in Saelemaekers, who almost broke the deadlock. Hit the crossbar from an acute angle.
Hans Vanaken (LW) – 6/10 – A smart operator, but struggled to make his mark on the game against such a stubborn Italian defence.
Kevin de Bruyne (CM) – 7/10
Charles De Ketelaere (ST) – 7/10
Leandro Trossard (LW) – N/A