UEFA Euro 2020

Austria scare proves record-breaking Italy aren't invincible

Robbie Copeland
Roberto Mancini was a relieved man when the final whistle blew
Roberto Mancini was a relieved man when the final whistle blew / Carl Recine - Pool/Getty Images

If you weren't expecting much from Italy heading into Euro 2020, you weren't paying attention.

The 'dark horse' tag that has been thrust upon them seems a bit laughable considering the ridiculous form they were in heading into the tournament and the fact they're literally Italy. Everything we saw in the group stage - three wins, seven goals, three clean sheets - was just a continuation of the run that had seen them go two-and-a-half years without tasting defeat.

They're good. They're very, very good, But on the evidence of their last 16 win over Austria, they aren't quite the unstoppable force their freakish record suggests.

You could have been forgiven for expecting a procession against an Austria team who looked fairly uninspiring on paper, but Roberto Mancini's seemingly invincible side made stormy weather of it on their way to the quarter-finals.

They needed 120 minutes and a tight VAR decision to squeeze through, and desperately struggled with the rudimentary tactics deployed by Austria. Their game-plan was clear and effective - launch the ball in behind the centre-backs and make them run - and at times Leonardo Bonucci and Francesco Acerbi really struggled to keep Marko Arnautovic under wraps.

It was an Austrian long-ball that very nearly created the opener in the second-half of normal time, and there were a few instances where they were let off the hook by some abject finishing after failing to clear their lines. Without the commanding voice of Giorgio Chiellini at the heart of the back four, they struggled to keep it tight.

Bear in mind this was Marko Arnautovic they were facing. In the quarter-finals, it will either be Cristiano Ronaldo or Romelu Lukaku having a run at them.

The Azzurri were out of their attacking rhythm too, with none of Lorenzo Insigne, Ciro Immobile or Domenico Berardi able to pry anything out of the Austrian back line. By the time they finally broke the deadlock, the latter duo were no longer on the pitch.

Fortunately Federico Chiesa, who emerged from the bench to have one of his best games in an Italy shirt, was.

They needed a masterclass from the little Juventus winger to see them through, but you do get the feeling that would not have been enough against a higher standard of opposition.

Of course, we shouldn't overreact to one flawed, shakey performance. You can't cruise through every game, and at the end of the day, Austria dug deep and got themselves through. The fact they were able to do that is a good omen for their chances of going all the way.

As formidable as their record is, however, they aren't the finished article. There is weakness there to be exposed, and we may only see what the Italians are truly made of when things move up a gear at the business end of the tournament.