Italy Breaks 47-Year-Old Defensive Record In Nervy Win Over Defiant Austria

A lot of pundits jumped on Julie Foudy’s Italy bandwagon after the Azzurri looked like a free-flowing, attacking side with seven goals in Group A action. But in case you have forgotten how Italians love to play football, Saturday’s win over Austria was another reminder they’re a defense-first team, as they set record for longest streak without conceding a goal. 

Italy broke its own international record for longest streak without conceding a goal late in the second half of its 2-1 win over Austria in the Euro 2020 Round of 16 on Saturday. Scoreless after regulation, the Azzurri finally found some offense in extra time, though they were a bit fortunate to be saved by the VAR in the second half to secure an Italy-record 31st game unbeaten.

Back in the early 1970s, Italy went 1,143 minutes without conceding a goal, a record at the international level — that is until Saturday. The current Italian defense, with Gianluigi Donnarumma leading the way in goal, went 1,168 minutes without conceding before a late consolation from Austria prevented a record-tying fourth straight clean sheet to open a Euro tournament. 

On Saturday, Donnarumma had to make two saves and rely on the VAR to bail the Azzurri defense out to set the record. In the 65th minute, David Alaba nodded a cross toward Marko Arnautovic, who headed a perfect shot just over Donnarumma’s outstretched arms, bouncing off the underside of the crossbar and into the net. After a lengthy delay, the VAR ruled (correctly) Arnautovic was offside and the goal was scrapped.

About 20 minutes later, Italy broke its record for longest streak without conceding. 

While Italy won, eventually, it wasn’t the blowout many predicted after the Azzurri swept through Group A by a combined 7-0. Roberto Mancini’s men outshot Austria 12-1 in the first half, but the second half was a different story, with Austria building into the match.

Had Arnautovic’s goal counted, it would have been a fair result given how well the underdogs had performed, both frustrating Italy’s attack and creating chances of its own. But the disallowed goal was a turning point, with Italy regaining composure after and then taking control in the first half of extra time. 

Italy didn’t waste much time scoring in extra time. Federico Chiesa, whose dad Enrico scored at a European Championship 25 years and 12 days earlier, put Italy in front in the 95th minute, controlling the ball just in time to beat the defense and Daniel Bachmann, who was excellent in goal this tournament.

It was 2-0 10 minutes later through Matteo Pessina.

Eventually, Austria did break through, and it was a goal Italians everywhere will wonder how they conceded. Saša Kalajdžić got his head to an in-swinging corner to beat Donnarumma at the near post to end the longest streak without conceding a goal.

Austria plowed forward hoping for a late equalizer, but the Italian defense stood firm, as it had for 1,168 minutes prior. The Azzurri next play either top-ranked Belgium or Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in the quarterfinals on July 2 in Munich. 

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