by Sean Sedacca
It was supposed to be their toughest match of the opening round by far, and most observers felt that managing a tie would be a good result against group favorites Belgium. Instead, Italy not only managed to secure a win, but they did so in impressive fashion against the team ranked second in the world by FIFA.
Lacking the star power normally associated with Azzuri, Antonio Conte sent out a squad that was organized, enthusiastic and willing to work very hard. Every player on the field knew exactly what he was supposed to do, and did it well for the full 90 minutes.
With some of the other big names seemingly in disarray, the no-frills approach that brought Conte so much success with Juventus could see Italy going quite far in Euro 2016.
Player Ratings (1-10)
Gianluigi Buffon (6.5) Only tested on a few occasions, he always responded with the calmness and security expected of a veteran player and team captain. Set the tone early by making a save on a tricky long distance effort appear easy.
Andrea Barzagli (6) Not quite as secure playing the ball as his Juventus counterparts in the back line, but he didn’t put a foot wrong defensively. Exactly what Italy need from him.
Leonardo Bonucci (7) An outstanding performance from the leader in the back, who isn’t always mentioned among the world’s top defenders, but certainly should be. Impeccable in his defensive work, Bonucci also showed just how well he can play out of the back by playing in the long ball for Giaccherini’s goal.
Giorgio Chiellini (6.5) A very good game from the national team stalwart, who at times during the 2015-2016 looked to have lost a little something. Like many of his teammates, however, the maglia azzurra brings out the best in him. Obvious yellow car is par for the course.
Daniele De Rossi (6) Much like Chiellini, the national team jersey seems to turn back the clock 3 years for the Roma player, who looked much more solid and energetic than we have seen him all season. Still not fit for 90 minutes, though.
Marco Parolo (6.5) An incredibly amount of work from a player selected for exactly that reason. Parolo was tireless as he made solid contributions on both the offensive and defensive side of ball. The type of player that every team needs.
Emanuele Giacherini (7) A similar work rate to Parolo, but with some added dynamism and speed. Excellent job to finish an opportunity that wasn’t as simple as he made it appear.
Antonio Candreva (7) The other man of the match, along with Bonucci. He worked as hard as his teammates in midfield, and added skill and class on top of it. Lazio are currently struggling to sell him for 25 million Euro, while Man City paid over 60 million each for the likes of De Bruyne and Sterling. Has the world gone mad?
Matteo Darmian (6.5) Another cog in a midfield that seemed to do everything right. He didn’t contribute as much to the offense as Candreva did, but he also wasn’t expected to since he was tasked with dropping back as a fourth defender when needed.
Graziano Pelle (6.5) A huge amount of sacrifice and a fair bit of quality as well, Pelle went some way in silencing the critics that didn’t see him as a first choice. Did well to bury the golden opportunity given to him to close out the match.
Eder (5.5) If the likes of Giacherini and Pelle made their doubters think twice, Eder only confirmed the talk that he had no business starting over the likes of Insigne, Zaza and El Shaarawy. After a lackluster second half of the year at Inter, Eder continued to look out of shape and slightly lost tactically.
Mattia De Sciglio (6) Replaced Darmian early in the second half and picked up right where his teammate left off, filling the exact same role and putting in a similarly good effort.
Ciro Immobile (nr) Looked more confident and in-sync with his teammates than Eder, and took a decent shot forcing Courtois to save well. Should get more time going forward.
Thiago Motta (nr) Brought in late for De Rossi to provide fresh defensive legs in midfield and added ball possession. Hardly noticeable, which is a good thing.
Follow Sean Sedacca on Twitter @LazialeaNY