Soccer-Austria scare gives Italian record breakers welcome wake-up call

·2-min read

By Alasdair Mackenzie

ROME (Reuters) - By the end of the night, it was all smiles in the Italy camp.

But behind the beaming grin of Federico Chiesa or the relieved expression of manager Roberto Mancini was an awareness that their Euro 2020 last-16 clash with Austria was too close for comfort.

Few expected the Austrians to put up much of a fight against an Azzurri side that glided through the group stage, winning all three games without conceding a goal.

But Italy toiled to a 0-0 draw, and had VAR to thank for chalking off a Marko Arnautovic goal for offside in the second half before goals from substitutes Chiesa and Matteo Pessina earned a 2-1 win in extra time.

It may not have been a vintage Italian performance, but it continued their remarkable run under Mancini.

Italy set a new national record of 31 matches unbeaten, stretching back to September 2018, while clocking up a record 12th consecutive victory.

They finally conceded a goal after 1,168 minutes (19 hours, 28 minutes) at the death, but goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma still surpassed Dino Zoff’s previous Italian clean sheet record of 1,143 minutes.

Italy’s subdued performance did not stem the enthusiasm that has grown in the country since they opened Euro 2020 with a 3-0 thumping of Turkey in Rome.

Gazzetta dello Sport’s front page proclaimed the team “Lions of Italy", while Corriere dello Sport issued a plea to the players: "Don’t wake us up!"

But beyond the hype, there is a belief that Italy’s fright may prove helpful for the rest of the tournament, with a quarter-final against Belgium or Portugal coming next.

"Wins like this help a team to grow, to find more self-assurance, to be aware of their abilities. This was an exam, and we passed it," former Premier League-winning Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri told Gazzetta dello Sport.

The sentiment was shared inside the squad.

"We knew that it was not easy. We did well to never give up, especially in the difficult moments. This will help us be better when we face our next matches," Donnarumma said.

Mancini even went as far as to say he thought the Austrians were provided a tougher test than they will get in the next round against one of the tournament favourites.

Time will tell, but for now Italy go on with more belief than ever after showing they can win the hard way.

(Reporting by Alasdair Mackenzie, editing by Ed Osmond)

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