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.
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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.


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.

TURIN, ITALY - OCTOBER 10: Domenico Berardi of Italy celebrates after scoring their side's second goal from the penalty spot during the UEFA Nations League 2021 Third Place Match between Italy and Belgium at Juventus Stadium on October 10, 2021 in Turin,

Image credit: Getty Images


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.

Italy's midfielder Nicolo Barella (C-back) celebrates with teammates after scoring during the UEFA Nations League third place football match between Italy and Belgium, at the Juventus Stadium, in Turin, on October 10, 2021. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AF

Image credit: Getty Images


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.
Subs: De Bruyne 7, Ketelaere 7.


25' Off the bar! Nice play from Batshuayi who held off defenders before squaring to Saelemaekers in the box and his calm curling effort had the Azzurri keeper beaten but came back off the bar.
47' GOAL! The corner is cleared to the edge of the box where Barella drives the ball low past Courtois' right hand and into the net.
61' Off the post! That did not look like coming. Batshuayi got around the right hand side of the Italy defence and shot from a narrow angle beating Donnarumma but seeing the ball come back off the post.
63' PENALTY! Chiesa gets around Castagne and the defender seemingly takes ball and player - but which first? The referee thinks player. VAR are checking.
64' GOAL FOR ITALY! The penalty stands and Berardi slides the ball to Courtois' right and though the Real Madrid stopper gets a hand to it he can only divert into the side-netting.
81' Belgium hit the post for a third time! Carrasco hits a curling effort from 20 yards which has Donnarumma beaten but clips the outside of the post.
86' GOAL FOR BELGIUM! Another goal set up by a goalkeeper's long throw. This time Courtois finds De Bruyne who slips in de Ketelaere who squeezes the ball past Donnarumma.


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