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[av_heading heading=’Match analysis: Belgium vs Italy’ tag=’h1′ style=’blockquote modern-quote modern-centered’ size=’46’ subheading_active=” subheading_size=’15’ padding=’10’ color=’custom-color-heading’ custom_font=’#ffffff’][/av_heading]

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Author: Iain Macintosh

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So much for the theory that Italy were heading for yet another early tournament exit. Having been knocked out in the group stages of the last two World Cups, the chances are that this will be an altogether more pleasant summer for Italy. Manager Antonio Conte takes tactical preparation very seriously.

He had screens erected around his training pitch so he could draw his plans together in secret. And how well it has worked. Up against Belgium, ranked no.1 in the world by FIFA, Italy won a deserved victory.
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Image from Wyscout  Match Report

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Conte’s victory was built on the back of the Juventus defence, a unit with which he is very familiar, of course. Gianlugi Buffon was typically excellent, though he should probably resist the temptation to go swinging off any crossbars again, and the back three of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini kept Belgium at bay with a degree of comfort. Bonucci and Chiellini, in particular were excellent, one grizzled warrior smashing into his enemies with relish, one powerful artist, breaking up Belgium’s attack and then starting his own with a series of deft, accurate passes. He could even create attacking moves out of challenges, releasing Candreva on the right with one clearing header and creating one chance in the 29th minute from a one-touch interception of Lukaku. No less an authority than Gabriele Marcotti considers Bonucci the best passer of a ball in the Italian side and there was ample evidence of that here.

But Italy were aided by an oddly incoherent performance from Belgium, whose manager Marc Wilmots is reportedly less enamoured with whiteboards and counters. There is a touch of the old England team in Belgium; a collection of household names unable to produce performances to match their reputations. Wilmots singled out Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku for criticism afterwards, which was fair, but it was hard to see what the wider plan for these players.

Too often, the situation fell into one of two categories. Either Belgium had no clear plan of attack or every player had his own individual plan of attack. Either way, it wasn’t working. Midway through the first half, their plight was encapsulated when Eden Hazard slipped the ball out to Jan Vertonghen, overlapping on the left. With Marouane Fellaini entering the box and Lukaku on the penalty spot and advancing, the Tottenham defender carefully lofted the ball deep past the far post where absolutely nobody was waiting.
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This was hardly an isolated incident. Too often, Lukaku made the wrong run. Too often, De Bruyne made the wrong pass. And then an individual error from Toby Alderweireld allowed Giacherinni to steal in and score the opening. From a magnificent pass by Bonucci, naturellement. The tournament is young, first game slip-ups are not unknown and there is plenty of football still to be played. But if Belgium don’t buck up their ideas, there’s no reason why Sweden and Ireland couldn’t beat them as well.

As for Italy, you wonder what they might achieve with a little more quality in their attack. There’s certainly nothing wrong with their defence. They could yet be surprise contenders.
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Iain Macintosh
Is a football writer for ESPNFC and the editor of  The Set Pieces

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