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Brilliant team beats a team with brilliant players

ITALY’S win over Belgium in the quarter-finals of Euro 2020 was a victory for a brilliant team over a side with brilliant individuals.

Brilliant team beats a team with brilliant players


Relying on a couple of players for success in a team sport is always fraught with danger. Even Lionel Messi needs a star cast around him to win the Champions League. The man who used to win football matches on his own passed away last year.

From day one, Italy’s stress was on collective work. Take out any player from Roberto Mancini’s side, its results would still be the same. The word prima donna owes its origin to Italian but the Azzurri has none. The fortunes of Belgium, on the other hand, rode on Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard.

Mancini wouldn’t have included a player nursing a torn ligament in the starting XI irrespective of his importance to the team. De Bruyne was brave enough to play -- he not only played; he also excelled -- despite a serious ankle injury but his presence on the field only highlighted Belgium’s weakness.

To be fair to Belgium coach Roberto Martinez, he had to take the risk after losing Hazard to injury. His team needed the combined invention of De Bruyne and Hazard to stand up to the collective might of Italy.

The 2022 World Cup represents the last chance saloon for the golden generation of Belgium, whose mental strength remains suspect. Its biggest takeaway from the Italy match was the youthful exuberance of Jeremy Doku who was full of running and ideas.

Italy must now deal with the pressure of being the overwhelming favourite for the title. Losing its marauding full-back Leonardo Spinazzola to a serious injury in the Belgium match was a blow. Spinazzola was the best left-back of the tournament and to see him leave the field in agony was gut-wrenching.

Earlier in the day, Switzerland let a place in the semi-finals slip through its fingers. Having held Spain 1-1 in open play with a man down for nearly 45 minutes, the Swiss should have entered the shootout in a far more confident mood. But they shot themselves in the foot by probably thinking about the semi-finals.

Neutral fans would have been behind Switzerland and its goalkeeper Yann Sommer to pull it off but history didn’t repeat itself. There was no shame in going out at the quarter-final stage and the Swiss had endeared themselves to fans all over the world by ousting France with the performance of the tournament.

Spain is neither here nor there. It is nowhere close to the brilliance of Xavi & co. and at the same time it isn’t rank bad either. Italy could probably be its Waterloo at Euro 2020.

(The writer has reported the Fifa World Cup from South Africa, Brazil and Russia)

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