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Record-chasing Italy becoming the team to fear at Euro 2020

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LONDON: Italy’s unbeaten streak won’t last forever, and Austria coach Franco Foda is plotting to be the one to stop it.

The Italians have become one of the favourites at the European Championship after winning all three of their games in the group stage, scoring seven goals and conceding none. Those three victories at Euro 2020 extended the team’s unbeaten streak under coach Roberto Mancini to 30 games matching the previous record set in the 1930s.

“Initially it seemed to be an insurmountable and impossible challenge for us, because they haven’t lost for an eternity,” Foda said. “But sooner or later even Mancini’s team will lose.”

Austria, who have reached the round of 16 at the tournament for the first time, will get their chance on Saturday at Wembley Stadium.

Besides the unbeaten streak, Italy will also be trying to set another record. The team has not conceded a goal in 11 matches, a total of 1,055 minutes. If Austria fail to score, Italy will surpass the record of 1,143 minutes set between 1972 and 1974.

For a team that failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Italy’s recent results are quite remarkable.

“It’s something that makes us proud, especially considering what they thought of us before the tournament started, Italy forward Lorenzo Insigne said. “But we have to stay focused, calm and think about ourselves. We haven’t done anything yet. Our objective is to go all the way, it wasn’t just to get through the group stage.”

This is Austria’s first appearance in the knockout stages of any major tournament since the 1954 World Cup, when they reached the semi-final. So they will be keen to make an impression.

Fiery striker Marko Arnautovic is more than happy to ruffle some feathers, but Italy’s rearguard will relish the competition.

One worry coach Mancini does have is over the fitness of Giorgio Chiellini. He and Leonardo Bonucci are normally Mancini’s go-to centre-back partnership, with the club teammates possessing 214 Italy caps between them.

But there is plenty of experience — a key component of an Italian backline — in reserve. Francesco Acerbi, who played alongside Bonucci while Chiellini had a long injury layoff in 2019-20, is capable of seamlessly stepping in.

In knockout rounds, it is often the best defences that emerge victorious, given the nerves of the occasion stemming free-flowing, attacking football.

Protected brilliantly by Jorginho in midfield, and with the ever-reliable Gianluigi Donnarumma behind them, Italy’s backline is set up to make any opposition struggle. Austria must hope for a rare off day if they are to have any chance of springing a surprise.


In the other last 16 tie on Saturday, Denmark will be playing their first game away from Copenhagen’s Parken Stadium when they take on Wales but there will still be a familiar feel in Amsterdam – a home away from home for Danish footballers.

The Danish national team has long been influenced by the Dutch masters at Ajax Amsterdam, and plenty of Danish players like Michael Laudrup, Morten Olsen, as a manager, and current striker Kasper Dolberg have thrived in the capital.

“It is a fantastic place, a fantastic stadium, which under normal circumstances is absolutely wild to play in. So yeah, I’m really just looking forward to it,” Dolberg told reporters.

For Denmark to be facing Wales in a knockout game two weeks after playmaker Christian Eriksen, who made his breakthrough at Ajax, suffered a cardiac arrest in their opener against Finland, is a huge achievement. Their 4-1 win over Russia, with the team roared on by a fanatical crowd, saw them through.

“I’m thinking a lot about Christian and how much I have hoped that he could experience this,” Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand said. “He has been looking forward to this summer so much, it’s a big, big dream for Christian, and just to know that hes not here hurts.”

Wales coach Rob Page paid tribute to the way the Denmark team had coped with the situation, but said his team has to focus solely on the match.

“Obviously the world has taken note of what’s happened and the emotion involved in it, but we can’t get involved in that now,” he said. “It’s work as usual for us and now we’ve got a job to do and we want to go and finish it.”

Published in Dawn, June 26th, 2021

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