NICOLO BARELLA AND DOMENICO BERARDI GIVE ITALY THIRD PLACE IN NATIONS LEAGUE

UEFA Nations League Finals Third-Place Play-Off, Juventus Stadium – Italy 2 (Barella 46’, Berardi P 65’) Belgium 1

Italy held on to beat Belgium 2-1 to win the Nations League third/fourth play-off game.After a drab first half, Nicolo Barella opened the scoring two minutes after the break when a corner was only cleared to him on the edge of the box and the Inter midfielder fired low past Thibaut Courtois.The lead was doubled when Federico Chiesa was felled in the box by Timothy Castagne and Domenico Berardi’s ensuing penalty could only be pushed into the side-netting by the Real Madrid goalkeeper.

Despite Belgium hitting the post on three occasions during the course of the 90 minutes, from Alexis Saelemaekers, Michy Batshuayi and Yannick Carrasco, it seemed like Italy would see out the game comfortably before Courtois’ long throw found De Bruyne in the Italy half and he played through Charles De Ketelaere who squeezed the ball past Gianluigi Donnarumma and into the net.

TALKING POINT – WHAT WAS THE POINT OF THIS GAME?

You can extend this to discuss the worthiness of any third place games, except in the Olympics, but when the European Championships does not see the need to have a third/fourth playoff it seems especially spurious for the Nations League to adopt it. In the biggest tournaments such as the World Cup, the commercial attraction for another game and minor fillip for winner, especially if a smaller nation, could at least form an argument why it may take place. That said with main players often not involved (not to discredit the injuries which kept Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku from proceedings, but if this had been the final you would have expected them to at least play some part), a losing semi-finalist is always how a team is remembered, while the result of the bronze medal match and those involved are all be forgotten. You want evidence? Ask someone to recall the team which started for England in the 2018 World Cup third/fourth game and see how long it takes for Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s name to crop up.

MAN OF THE MATCH – NICOLO BARELLA (ITALY)

The key factor which will help Italy stay a contender beyond the World Cup at the end of next season and mean Belgium will probably not is the depth of midfield strength. While Jorginho and Marco Verrati will be the wrong side of 30 at Euro 2022, in Lorenzo Pellegrini, Bryan Cristante, Manuel Locatelli and especially Nicolo Barella, Italy have players who look well capable of taking over the leadership in this part of the ground.While neither side looked inspired in the first half Barella looked as composed as any player on the field and was pivotal in making Italy look the stronger side on the break. It was apt that he was the man to score the key goal.

PLAYER RATINGS

Italy: Donnarumma 7; Di Lorenzo 7, Acerbi 7, Bastoni 7, Emerson 7; Barella 8*, Locatelli 7, Pellegrini 7; Berardi 7, Raspadori 6, Chiesa 7.Subs: Jorginho 6, Cristante 6, Kean

6.Belgium: Courtois 6; Alderweireld 7, Denayer 5, Vertonghen 6; Castagne 6, Witsel 6, Tielemans 6, Saelemaekers 6; Vanaken 6, Carrasco 7; Batshuayi 6.

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