Italy had substitutes Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina to thank as Roberto Mancini’s men won their 12th consecutive game to reach the Euro 2020 quarter-finals with a 2-1 extra-time victory over Austria.
Juventus winger Chiesa picked the ball up on the right before cutting inside and firing a brilliant left-footed drive beyond Daniel Bachmann on 95 minutes.
And 10 minutes later the contest was all but over when Austria fail to clear a Lorenzo Insigne cross and the ball fell to Pessina, who checked to his left before smashing it past Bachmann.
To Austria’s credit they never gave up and went close on several occasions to reducing the deficit before Sasa Kalajdzic’s brilliant header set up a nervy finish.
The Italians were unable to break down Austria in the opening 45 minutes, failing to make any notable attempts on target.
And they had VAR to thank on 66 minutes, after Marko Arnatovic’s header was ruled out for a narrow offside.
Stefan Lainer clipped the ball across field to David Alaba, who leaped into the air to head it back over.
The former West Ham striker came in at the back post and expertly headed the ball off the underside of the bar to spark what proved to be a short-lived spell of delirium in the Austria end.
Austria continued to be the better side but they could not create anything clear-cut while Italy also looked lost for ideas, appearing tired and flat as the game ended goalless after 90 minutes.
Chiesa and Pessina took advantage of tired legs in the additional 30 minutes to ensure a smash and grab victory for Italy as a valiant Austria side exited the competition.
Matt Holland, covering the game as a co-commentator for talkSPORT, believes the Italians underestimated Franco Foda’s men on Saturday night.
“I don’t think Italy expected Austria to be as good as they were or to have as much energy, commitment and desire as they did,” Holland said.
“I thought Italy played pretty well. Verratti and Jorginho started to dominate, they were pretty good in the first-half.
“Austria in the second-half found another gear, another two gears, three gears! The energy they showed in that second-half was outstanding.
“The subs made the difference, the two goals scored were from substitutes. The strength of the squad showed today and that’s been the difference between the two sides.”
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