Italy’s defenders celebrated their stops like the attacking players celebrated their goals.
Both had plenty of reason to be happy on Friday.
Nicolò Barella and Lorenzo Insigne scored a goal each while Leonardo Spinazzola make a key second-half block to give Italy a 2-1 win over Belgium and a spot in the European Championship semifinals.
“Everyone, myself included, is really playing with a smile on their faces,” said Insigne, whose team extended its national record unbeaten run to 32 games.
Romelu Lukaku kept his team in the game with a penalty right before halftime but the Belgians missed further chances to equalize in the second half as Italy’s defenders excelled.
Barella put Italy in the lead in the 31st minute when Jan Vertonghen failed to properly clear the ball. Marco Verratti passed to Barella, who eluded two Belgium defenders before sending it in off the far post.
Insigne got the second in the 44th when he put a curling shot inside the far top corner after skipping past one defender and facing two more.
Belgium was awarded the penalty when Giovanni Di Lorenzo pushed Jeremy Doku shortly before halftime. Lukaku then made it 2-1 by sending his shot down the middle. It was only the second goal Italy has conceded at the tournament.
“I didn’t see the penalty," Italy coach Robert Mancini said. "The defense told me it was rather cheap, but that aside, it was very important to produce a top-class performance, and we did just that.”
Italy will next play Spain in the semifinals on Tuesday at Wembley Stadium in London. The Spanish defeated Switzerland on penalties in St. Petersburg.
“We will now savor this moment. We’ll try and rest up because it will be another tough match,” Mancini said.
In the second half, Spinazzola just did enough to deny Lukaku on the line with what seemed to be a certain equalizer when Kevin De Bruyne played the ball to the far post. Spinazzola was kissed by his grateful teammates, but he was later carried off on a stretcher with a leg injury.
“We’ll try and go all the way in this tournament, above all for him, because Spinazzola has been a crucial component of this team,” Insigne said.
De Bruyne started the match after recovering from a left ankle injury, but Eden Hazard remained out with a leg injury.
“We gave everything that we could. I couldn’t be prouder of my players and the staff,” Belgium coach Roberto Martínez said after the end of his top-ranked team’s 13-game unbeaten run. “Everything in this tournament has been fantastic and the application and dedication of everyone has been at the highest level.”
Belgium played as it had in the 1-0 win over Portugal with defense a priority. A back three quickly became a back five whenever Italy had the ball as Thorgan Hazard and Thomas Meunier retreated to help out.
Martínez brought on Dries Mertens and Nacer Chadli with about 20 minutes remaining. Chadli nearly set up an equalizer within seconds of coming on, but his cross was too high for Lukaku and it fell behind Thorgan Hazard.
Chadli then had to go off with what appeared to be a hamstring injury after being on the field for only about five minutes. Spinazzola followed in the 79th after he pulled up sharply while chasing the ball.
“We’re gutted about Spinazzola’s injury. He didn’t deserve that,” Mancini said. “Because he was playing extraordinarily well, he’s been one of the best players at Euro 2020. We are absolutely gutted and we’d like to send him our best wishes.”