Italy's superb Euro 2020 campaign continued on Friday as they edged past Belgium 2-1 in Munich to set up a semi-final clash with Spain. Superb strikes from Nicolo Barella and Lorenzo Insigne put Italy two goals ahead by the 44th minute, but Belgium pulled one back before the interval courtesy of a Romelu Lukaku penalty.
Lukaku went close in the second period, yet Roberto Mancini's side held firm in the first knockout meeting between the sides at a major tournament.
The Azzurri will now play Spain at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday after Luis Enrique's side overcame Switzerland on penalties earlier in the day.
Italy thought they had opened the scoring in the 13th minute, but Leonardo Bonucci's bundled finish from Insigne's free-kick was ruled out for offside following a VAR review.
Gianluigi Donnarumma denied Kevin De Bruyne and Lukaku in quick succession midway through the first half, before the Azzurri went ahead in the 31st minute when Barella superbly lashed across Thibaut Courtois for his sixth international goal.
Italy doubled their advantage a minute before half-time when Insigne powered towards the penalty area and whipped into Courtois' top-left corner from 25 yards.
Belgium halved the deficit in first-half stoppage time, however, Lukaku stroking home from the spot after Giovanni Di Lorenzo had pushed Jeremy Doku in the area.
Inter striker Lukaku had a glorious opportunity to draw the Red Devils level on the hour mark, but his close-range effort hit Leonardo Spinazzola with Donnarumma beaten.
Doku blazed over after a mazy run late on as Roberto Martinez’s side, who only had one shot on target in the second half, ultimately saw their Euro 2020 campaign end with a whimper.
What does it mean? Unstoppable Italy march on
Italy extended their unbeaten run to a national record 32 games in the last 16 against Austria and they never looked like failing to follow that up with another victory at the Allianz Arena.
Giorgio Chiellini and Bonucci marshalled the defence in a typically robust fashion, frustrating Lukaku and De Bruyne, while Insigne, Barella and Federico Chiesa were a handful at the other end of the pitch.
Belgium's heralded 'golden generation' might well have squandered their last chance to win a major trophy together, but this thrilling Italy side is just getting started.
Barella shines for Mancini's men
Barella was at the heart of everything good about Italy's display, the 24-year-old scoring and assisting in the same game for the first time in his Azzurri career, with this his 27th appearance.
Concern for Spinazzola
The only blot on Italy's copybook was the injury suffered by Spinazzola late on. The Roma full-back pulled up holding his hamstring and was in tears as he was carried from the pitch, knowing his tournament is likely over.
Key Opta Facts
- Italy have reached the semi-finals of a major tournament (World Cup/Euros) for the 12th time – the only European nation to do so more is Germany (20 times). They have progressed from each of their last four such semi-finals.
- Italy have extended their longest ever unbeaten run to 32 games (W27 D5), winning each of the last 13 in a row.
- Belgium have faced Italy more times at major international tournaments without winning than any other side (5), while Italy have only faced Germany (9) more often at the same tournaments without losing.
- Mancini became only the second coach in European Championship history to win each of his first five matches in the competition finals after Michel Hidalgo, who won all five of his matches in charge of France at the 1984 edition.
- Including the qualifying rounds, Italy have won each of their last 15 European Championship matches, a competition record. Belgium themselves had won 14 consecutive such matches before today's defeat.
- No Belgium player has scored more goals than Lukaku at either the European Championships (six) or the World Cup (five, level with Marc Wilmots). Lukaku has scored 24 goals in his last 23 appearances for Belgium, including 22 in his last 19 competitive internationals.
Italy take on Spain in a mouth-watering last-four clash in London next week, while Belgium will lick their wounds before resuming World Cup qualifying in September.