Four-time world champions Italy escaped with a 2-1 extra-time win over Austria in their UEFA Euro 2020 round of 16 clash. The win in London set up a mouth-watering quarter-final clash with either top-ranked Belgium or defending champions Portugal in Munich.
Italy entered the knock-outs of the European Championship as one of the favourites, having won all their Group A games without conceding a goal. But Austria, who finished second behind the Netherlands in Group C, gave them a mighty scare at Wembley Stadium Saturday night.
Roberto Mancini's Azzuri, who scored seven goals in their group engagements, failed to break down Austrian defence. In fact, had Marko Arnautovic strike stood in normal time, the outcome of the match would have been different. An early exit for Italy. But the former West Ham United striker's goal was disallowed after a VAR check for offside. Interestingly also, Arnautovic was booked after 1 minute and 32 seconds, the earliest card shown so far at Euro 2020.
Then it needed two sublime goals from substitutes Federico Chiesa (95th minute) and Matteo Pessina (105th) to settle the contest even as a Sasa Kalajdzic (114th) header gave Austria a consolation goal. For the record, it was the first goal Italy have conceded in 12 matches and the first since October 2020, ending a run of 19 hours and 28 minutes.
This was just the second match in European Championship history to see as many as three goals scored in extra time, after France vs Portugal in 1984. It was also only the second time two different substitutes have scored in a European Championship game for Italy, after Alessandro Altobelli and Luigi De Agostini did so in 1988 against Denmark.
Making their first appearance in the knockouts of the European Championship, Franco Foda's men were brilliant in defence while also creating chances against a very strong Italian side. Arnautovic and skipper David Alaba got more than a couple of chances but they somehow failed to make the most out of the opportunities.
For Italy, it was a timely wake-up call before their quarter-final match in Munich. For now, they will savour the new national record -- a run of 31 undefeated matches.
Italy have now won four consecutive games at the European Championship for the second time, previously doing so in Euro 2000 when they ended up as losing finalists.