Style. You need only look at Roberto Mancini to know there is something different, a dash of panache, about this Italy side. At Wembley, Austria made them fight but could not force them to abandon the aesthetics and with two gorgeous finishes in extra time, the Azzurri made the quarter finals.
The first was from Federico Chiesa and it honoured his family name. Introduced for Domenico Berardi in the final stages of normal time, the young Juventus winger burst into action in the added period.
Leonardo Spinazzola, Italy’s relentless left back, came buccaneering forward for what seemed the thousandth time and chipped to the far post but the ball bounced high and Chiesa had to leap and improvise a brilliant touch with his head to drop it to the turf.
Then, as Konrad Laimer thundered in to tackle, Chiesa nicked the ball away from the backtracking Austrian midfielder. A third touch was even better still — a drive from Chiesa’s left foot that flashed the ball, from a tight angle, into the net.
This sumptuous goal recalled memories of his father, Enrico, who scored at Anfield in Euro 96 against Czech Republic with a wonderful finish — similarly, from an angle, into the corner.
Having strove so long and so hard to beat Austria’s redoubtable keeper, Watford’s Daniel Bachmann, Italy rode a wave of relief to immediately do so again. It was another superbly executed finish.
Again, Spinazzola was involved, centring low from the left. Andrea Belotti won the ball and Matteo Pessina swivelled and with his left foot, bulleted home.
When Lorenzo Insigne had a free-kick only just tipped over by Bachmann it seemed there would suddenly be a rout but Austria recovered the spirit of resilience that had sustained them in normal time and, in the 114th minute, from a corner, Sasa Kalajdzic beat Gianluigi Donnarumma with a diving header at his near post. In the end it didn’t matter. This was their 31st game without defeat, beating their all-time record.
“We knew there would be some potential banana skins in this match and we thought it might even be tougher than the quarter final,” Mancini told a news conference.
“Of course, Austria are not as good as the teams we will face in the next round, but they really make life tough for you. We watched a lot of their matches and they do cause problems.
“We knew that if we scored in the first half it would have been a different game.
“We didn’t manage to and so we had to dig deep.”