Belgium vs Italy was billed as an intriguing and exciting matchup from the moment the two teams were drawn against each other and it certainly lived up to the hype. A thoroughly engaging tactical battle, there was never a constant flurry of chances in the kind of end to end matches that usually excite us, but it had enough of drama, intrigue and good football on show nevertheless.
The Italians triumphed to the surprise of many, and put in the kind of astute well drilled tactical performance that we always know they’re capable of. Conte’s impact on this contest was there for all to see, and he sent out a team that knew their jobs perfectly well. If anybody still had any doubts about his talents as a manager, he gave the perfect master-class of his skill as a manager yesterday.
Conte vs Wilmots: A Mismatch?
After his prolonged success at Juve and his appointment by Chelsea, Conte’s pedigree really isn’t in much doubt. He’s considered one of the top managers in world football and did no harm to his reputation last night, thoroughly outfoxing his rival.
Italy were much more than the sum of their parts, consistently moving together as a team and always making sure the player with the ball had several options. Compare this to a Belgium setup that looked lacklustre and didn’t seem to have any ideas of what to do with the ball. There was a moment in the match when Eden Hazard shook off a couple of defenders with ease but just had no one making a run to play the ball to and got robbed off possession.
It only showed how massively underprepared and tactically naïve Wilmots was. His change in system in an attempt to mirror Italy’s playing style came too late and he certainly needs to read matches better if Belgium are to fulfil their potential in this tournament.
Conte on the other hand showed that he knew Belgium’s setup well and what exactly he wanted from each one of his players. The unity and resilience of the Azzurri was on show as well, the way the whole squad got up to celebrate after each goal illustrated how the players are focused and united, and will give their all for the national team. Conte was very particular about choosing men rather than players in the build-up to this tournament. Something he has stressed on throughout his tenure as Italy coach, going as far as to regularly overlook talented players that he thinks do not have the mental fortitude and discipline that he demands.
On last night’s evidence, it seems his decisions have been vindicated but there’s still a long way to go in this tournament. Conte will be overjoyed with the win against the Belgians though, and he knows that if they can replicate this form and energy they can be one of the contenders for going all the way.