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Giaccherini Golazo helps Italy to win over Belgium, control of Ireland's group

Graziano Pelle made the three points safe with a thumping finish in injury time.

Image: Antonio Calanni

A TERRIFIC FIRST touch and cool finish from Emanuele Giaccherini set unfancied Italy into control on the way to a 2-0 victory over a much-celebrated Belgium and hoisted them to the top of Group E.

With Ireland held by Sweden earlier this evening, Antonio Conte’s men now hold a two-point advantage in the push for the knock-out stages of Euro 2016.

Torrential rain in Lyon before kick-off meant both sides had to cope with a greasy ball. The Red Devils enjoyed the lion’s share of possession in the initial stages and tested Italy’s veteran skipper Gianluigi Buffon, appearing at his 11th major finals, in the Azzurri goal.

A well-worked move involving Romelu Lukaku and Marouane Fellaini allowed Radja Nainggolan a long-range strike on 10 minutes which forced Buffon into a diving save.

Yet, Italy’s ‘BBC’ defence, Andre Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, stood firm to deny the Belgian attack and the Italians then took the game by the scruff of the neck midway through the first-half which yielded Giaccherini’s opener.

Approaching the half-hour mark, Pelle had Italy’s first clear chance when his strike from outside the area flew wide of Thibaut Courtois’s far post.

giacherrini

On 32 minutes, Bonucci’s searching pass found Giaccherini in behind the Belgium defence to stroke his shot past Courtois.

The opening goal spurred on the Italian attack and Candreva’s shot forced a save before Pelle headed wide as the Italians finished the stronger of the first-half.

The Belgians were first to threaten after the break and Lukaku had his head in his hands as his shot clipped the post on 52 minutes before Hazard’s crisp shot tested Buffon.

Then centre-back Toby Alderweireld, Vincent Kompany’s replacement in the Belgium defence after a groin injury ruled him out of Euro 2016, had to scramble back to deny Eder.

Belgium’s captain Hazard moved from the left wing to the middle of the attack for the second-half, but the Chelsea star was frustrated in his efforts to free up Lukaku.

The Everton striker made way for Liverpool’s Divock Origi, whose header from a Kevin de Bruyne cross flew just over, as Marc Wilmot’s Red Devils pushed for the equaliser.

With time running out, Courtois pulled off a fine save to deny Italian substitute Ciro Immobile.

pelle

However, there was nothing the Chelsea ‘keeper could do as Italy sealed the three points in stunning fashion deep into stoppage time when Pelle smashed home Antonio Candreva’s cross.

Conte’s Italy next face Sweden in Toulouse on Friday, whilst Belgium face a crucial clash with Ireland on Saturday in Bordeaux if they are to avoid an embarrassing early exit.

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