Milan (AFP) – Federico Chiesa took centre stage coming off the bench late to score as Italy battled past Austria in extra-time to reach the Euro 2020 quarter-finals.
The Italians had swept into the last-16 but came up against a stubborn Austrian side before Chiesa broke through after 95 minutes to control the ball and with three touches score the first goal in a 2-1 win in Wembley.
Chiesa made the front pages of the Italian press on Sunday, on his knees at Wembley Stadium, his arms outstretched celebrating alongside Andrea Belotti and Matteo Pessina.
The three players had come off the bench to provide the spark needed against the Austrian underdogs who were playing in the knock-out rounds at Europeans for the first time.
For Juventus winger Chiesa the goal came 25 years after his father Enrico Chiesa scored against the Czech Republic in Euro 1996.
“It’s an amazing feeling to play for my country,” said Chiesa, after his second goal for Italy in 29 appearances since March 2018.
“I was composed. Usually when the ball arrives like this you try the first time. The goal came because I was composed, I was relaxed and I was focused.”
“Austria played well but we deserve to go through,” Chiesa continued.
“We are a group of 26 players not 11 and all of us are eager to help the team win games. This is what made the difference tonight.”
But no one could forget the 120 minutes of suffering of a team who had been the form side of the group stages with seven goals scored and none conceded.
“What suffering! But it will be useful,” wrote Italian coach Claudio Ranieri in Gazzetta dello Sport.
“Victories like this help teams to grow, to find great security, to be aware of their own potential. It was a test which we passed,” added the former Premier League winning coach with Leicester City.
“Chiesa and Pessina gave, in addition to goals, the a change of pace that was needed.”
Atalanta forward Pessina came on for Nicola Barrella after 67 minutes just after a scare when Austria’s Marko Arnautovic had a goal ruled offside after a VAR viewing.
– ‘Living the moment’ –
Marco Verratti, a key player in Mancini’s midfield system, was also replaced by Manuel Locatelli, while Chiesa, 23, took Domenico Berardi’s place after 84 minutes, with Belotti stepping in for Ciro Immobile.
Chiesa’s calm made the difference.
The 23-year-old latched onto a Leonardo Spinazzola cross, controlled the ball with his chest and foot to score an angle to leave Austrian goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann with no chance.
Already the UEFA man of the match against Wales, Chiesa changed the course of the game with Pessina doubling their account 10 minutes later.
Coach Roberto Mancini’s relief as evident: “Such a difficult match can do us good.”
For goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma “this match will help us to approach the next better”.
“We knew we had to suffer and we did well to do it together until the end,” said Donnarumma.
“I’m sure that a victory like this will help us to play next game with even more energy and focus.”
Sasa Kalajdzic’s header was the first against Italy since October last year.
But Italy went 1,168 minutes without conceding a goal, 25 minutes more than the previous record between 1972 and 1974.
Mancini’s team also notched up a 31st game unbeaten to overtaken Vittoro Pozzo’s side’s all-time Italian record back in the 1930s.
However the most difficult is still to come fore the Azzurri’s dream of second Euro title after 1968.
Thye will next meet either the Belgium of Inter Milan’s Romelu Lukaku or reigning champions Portugal of Chiesa’s Juventus teammate Cristiano Ronaldo.
“They are two great teams,” said Chiesa, who arrived at Juventus on loan this season and has scored 14 goals in 23 games.
“If Cristiano goes through it would be amazing to face him in the quarter-final.
“I played with him this year, he’s one of the greatest players ever. We will see, for now we’re just living the moment.”
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