Italy combine old, new as Belgium's golden generation miss another chance at glory

The window of opportunity for Belgium's golden age continues to close. Italy's young players look forward to a golden chance of their own, after a 2-1 win that saw them face Spain in the 2020 European Championship semifinals. Metaphorically, Inter teammates Romelu and Nicolo Lukaku shared a long, warm embrace that seemed to indicate just that.It's also somewhat limiting. It was because the man who was old school before it was invented that Italy won the second half. Giorgio Chiellini was 37 years old in August. He seemed to be able to reproduce every Belgian attack in the second half, appearing with an eerie punctuality, heading, booting, and cutting the ball away whenever he could. Although it wasn't very pretty and it was sometimes ungainly, the main concept was that the ball ended up farther away from the Italian goal every time it came within a 10-yard radius of Giorgio Chiellini.Fixtures and bracketThe same goes for Belgium's stars. One is on the verge of leaving, but another is pushing his way to the front. Jeremy Doku, just 19 years old, has been a constant nuisance to the Italian backline, especially after the break. Anyone who believes that Lukaku or Kevin De Bruyne will ever be done need to reconsider.This win for the Azzurri is a source of confidence and validation. After cruising through the group stage, beating Austria in extra-time, some thought that they hadn't yet played any big boys despite all their beautiful football. It was a surprise that Switzerland beat Italy 3-0, but Belgium was the only country left with any bigger boys than Spain.Roberto Mancini, Italy's coach, said that they deserved defeat after the match. It was an open match, we went toe-to-toe, and now we can look forward with confidence."Kevin De Bruyne's fitness was the main concern pregame. Injuries in the second-half against Portugal forced him to withdraw. He was also still suffering from a nerve injury. He was still there, however, alongside Romelu Lukaku as well as the darting teenager Doku.This trio was a crucial part of Belgium's game plan. They were not only responsible for Belgium's possession, but also helped to derail the Azzurri’s build-up. Lukaku, Doku, and De Bruyne sat narrowly, happy to allow the central defenders to have the ball but also helping to protect Marco Verratti and Jorginho. It forced Italy to move into wider areas, which made them look less comfortable in the first half-hour.Belgium had the best chance to win before the 30-minute mark. The classic De Bruyne counter was ended with a stunning finish that Gianluigi Donarumma's strong left hand neutralized. It was a reminder of how few footballers can hit the ball as gracefully as De Bruyne, even when they are injured. Donnarumma would later say that it was also "the biggest save of all my career to date."The Manchester City midfielder, shortly thereafter, keyed another counter. This opened play up for Lukaku who took on Chiellini, before Donnarumma made a strong save. Italy was able to find a way to reach the opposition's half and stay there by that time. They were pushing high and forcing Belgium to play long balls for Lukaku. This was bypassing De Bruyne. Italy led when Barella took Marco Verratti's ball. He held off Thorgan Hazard, and then suddenly ran into space to hammer it home.Although they might have had another shot shortly after, Ciro Immobile was too busy to try a shot after the excellent work of Leonardo Spinazzola. The Lazio striker was stuck between three opposing teams and battled hard, sometimes with very limited results. The missed opportunity was not something to be regretted. Lorenzo Insigne, a little man, skipped by Youri Tielemans to stick one of his patented curling finishes where Thibaut Courtois wasn't going to soar.Insigne stated that he knew Tielemans had been given a yellow card so if I passed him, he wouldn’t be stopping me from getting a foul." That gave me space to finish the game.Italy appeared set to lead at half-time, but Doku, a man who had done very little up until then, had other plans. As the defender's elbow was out, Doku raced towards Giovanni di Lorenzo and then fell to his knees. Referee Slavko Vicic pointed out the spot, and Lukaku scored the penalty. Martinez washed his temples from the sidelines. Mancini clasped his hands.Few things are as deflating or as motivating, depending on which side you're on, as a goal right before halftime that reopens a match. Doku was certainly energized, as he was the Belgian's most consistent threat for much of half-time. Italy was furious on the other side, partly due to their feeling that the penalty was too harsh and partly because they couldn't see the end of the lead.It beat Belgium in Munich to reach the 2020 Euro semifinals, and to play Spain. Getty ImagesDonnarumma stated, "Yeah we were very angry when we came in," "But we ignored it. We said to ourselves that we still had the lead, and we couldn't let it affect our second half.Doku seized on a loose ball just after the hour mark and terrorized the Italian defense before slipping it to De Bruyne. After a lung-bursting run, Spinazzola recovered from his cross and found Lukaku. Spinazzola could have scored a third at one end after Insigne's great ball, but he was too quick to finish.Martinez realized it was time for a gamble with 20 minutes remaining. Nacer Chadli was brought on to replace Thomas Meunier -- just like Thomas Meunier -- but Dries Mertens replaced Tielemans, so De Bruyne moved deeper into the midfield. Chadli was not lucky. Martinez injured Chadli and had to substitute Dennis Praet.Mancini replied by taking out Immobile, who offered a lot of work rate but very little quality. Andrea Belotti was then replaced with him, while Bryan Cristante, who is more defensive, came on for Verratti. Moments later Spinazzola fell clutching his left leg. It was the same injury that had plagued him for the past few seasons. Emerson followed Spinazzola, who was crying and sobbing as he was being stretchered off. Athletes are able to recognize their bodies. He looked like someone who knew his Euros were done, even though the nature of the injury was still unknown.Belgium was on the front foot and Doku, the supercharged Doku, was the most visible. The lightning fast run and finish was just above the crossbar. He felt as though something could happen every time he got the ball. It was not a good day for the Italians. It was not helped by the fact that the Azzurri had stopped pressing at this point and Axel Witsel, who had all day to distribute balls in the middle of the park, had no choice but to stop pressing.Donnarumma called those last minutes "interminable", and it felt like the scene in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" where the clock goes backwards at night. They were finally freed when the whistle blew.Two goals were set for them before the tournament. The first was to make it to the semifinal. They had to prove they were capable of playing modern, attacking football. You can check and again. They're now playing with their house money.Why not create a new goal? It's possible to win it all.