Celebrations in Sarajevo! The Azzurri beat Bosnia to qualify for the Final Four of the Nations LeagueGoals from Belotti and Berardi seal a 2-0 win for Mancini’s men, who are now unbeaten in 22 matches. Next October, they’ll face France, Spain and Belgium in the finals
Wednesday, November 18, 2020
Italy finished 2020 in the best way possible, beating Bosnia & Herzegovina 2-0 in Sarajevo and qualifying for the Final Four of the Nations League, which will be hosted by Milan and Turin in October 2021. Three huge names in European football await in the form of France, Spain and Belgium, and it’s sure to be a show. After coasting through their EURO 2020 qualifying campaign and earning a spot among the top ten European seeds for the World Cup qualifying draw in December, Roberto Mancini’s side have thus achieved another important objective, winning their Nations League qualifying group and stretching their unbeaten run to 22 games (17 wins and five draws).
Tonight’s victory, which was secured thanks to goals from Belotti and Berardi, was very much deserved for Italy, who once again performed excellently. As was the case against Poland, Lorenzo Insigne was at the centre of the Azzurri’s play, with the team showing a great understanding throughout. Roberto Mancini has got his men firing on all cylinders.
THE MATCH. With the team missing various players, including Bonucci, Immobile, Chiellini and Verratti (and not forgetting Chiesa, Zaniolo and Pellegrini), and their Head Coach Roberto Mancini, who remains in self-isolation at home, Italy, who were led by Alberico Evani for the third match in a row, took to the pitch with one new face compared to the match against Poland: Berardi replaced Bernardeschi in the side and formed an attacking trident with Belotti and Insigne. Acerbi and Bastoni once again lined up in front of Donnarumma, with Florenzi and Emerson taking up the full-back positions. In midfield, following his fantastic performance in Reggio Emilia, Locatelli was named alongside Jorginho and Barella. Bosnia, meanwhile, had eight players missing due to COVID-19, including striker and talisman Edin Dzeko, who found the net for his country against the Azzurri two months ago in Florence.
Italy dictated play early on, keeping the ball well and aiming to find a gap in the Bosnian defence. However, it was the hosts who had the first opportunity, with Krunic’s shot being blocked behind for a corner by Florenzi. The Azzurri then responded immediately: Berardi whipped in a ball from the right, Emerson knocked it down, and Belotti failed to hit the target from close range. With 15 minutes on the clock, the Torino player threatened again, producing a diving header from Florenzi’s cross that went wide. It was a case of third time lucky for Belotti, who, with 22 minutes on the clock, got on the end of Insigne’s delightful pass and managed to guide the ball past Piric to score his tenth Azzurri goal. In doing so, he equalled Immobile’s tally and found the net for the first time since doing so against Bosnia in European qualifying a year ago. Mancini’s men thus had a deserved lead and came close to doubling their advantage around the half-hour mark: first, Berardi called Piric into action with a left-footed curler; then, Belotti came inches away from connecting with Barella’s cross.
The Azzurri players were picking each other out well and pushing down the right side in particular, with Berardi constantly at the heart of the action. But every once in a while, Bosnia were able to provide a scare, like when Prevljak escaped the attentions of Acerbi and was thwarted by the legs of Donnarumma. Following his man-of-the-match performance against Poland, Insigne was once again in inspired form: in the 39th minute, the Napoli man plucked Barella’s pass from the sky and looked to find the far corner with a sumptuous effort, but it went just wide. Italy deserved to be at least two up for their efforts, but they came close to conceding at the end of the half as Gojak failed to convert from just a few yards out.
At the beginning of the second half, Di Lorenzo took Florenzi’s place on the pitch, and the Azzurri continued to push forward thereafter. Insigne and Belotti combined once more in the 50th minute, with the former playing it through for the latter, whose effort ended up hitting the side netting. Then, on the hour mark, Acerbi’s attempt flashed across the face of goal and Locatelli just failed to connect at the back stick. A goal was coming, however, and it duly arrived after 68 minutes: it was a case of the ‘Sassuolo connection’ as Berardi met Locatelli’s lofted ball on the volley and scored for the second consecutive match.
In the 76th minute, Italy were denied what looked like a clear penalty after Hadzikadunic had made contact with Belotti in the box, but ultimately it was never going to have any bearing on the outcome of the match. With the game coming to an end, the goalscorers Belotti and Berardi were brought off and replaced by Lasagna and Bernardeschi. The Juventus man had the final chance of the match, smacking the woodwork with a first-time strike after another Insigne ball to set him up. The Azzurri have said goodbye to 2020 on a high as they wait for 2021, when they’ll take to the pitch for World Cup qualifying, the European Championship and now the Final Four of the Nations League.