Italy secured a place at the Euro 2024 finals in Germany courtesy of a goalless draw against Ukraine in Leverkusen.
Ukraine will feel aggrieved for not being awarded a penalty deep into injury time when Mykhailo Mudryk went down after receiving contact from Italian substitute Bryan Cristante in the penalty area, but the referee did not award it and the VAR panel did not see enough to overturn the decision.
This was far from a vintage catenaccio-type defensive display from the Azzurri and they could have put Ukraine out of the game in the first half.
Federico Chiesa had a great chance in the seventh minute but he blazed over after Nicolo Zaniolo had headed the ball into his path.
Just after the half-hour mark Chiesa played a fine through-ball but Davide Frattesi saw his effort blocked by Anatoliy Trubin.
Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma was also called upon to make big stops, denying Georgiy Sudakov’s long-range effort in the first half and then spreading himself to block Mudryk’s close-range effort in the second half.
Both teams finish with 14 points from Group C, behind winners England, but Italy finish above due to their 2-1 victory in the reverse fixture.
What a fantastic game – If you were looking for an archetypal ‘not your typical nil-nil’, this was it. With the ever-increasing number of teams involved in finals and the added double-chance of play-offs, it could be feared that the days of desperate qualifiers between two teams of high quality were at an end, but it didn’t seem the case in Leverkusen’s PlayArena. It is to Italy’s credit that not until the final 20 minutes did it look like they even considered holding on for a draw, seemingly surprising Ukraine with their buccaneering style. Ukraine, though out-played, always looked dangerous on the break with Mudryk playing more like the £88.5 million winger Chelsea thought they were signing, and team-mates Viktor Tsygankov and Georgiy Sudakov looking equally dangerous on the break. It is likely both sides will be a part of next summer’s tournament in Germany and they showed tonight they will be more than worthy participants capable of challenging any sides they come up against.
Player of the Match
Federico Chiesa (Italy) – Luciano Spalletti deserves credit for turning Italy’s fortunes around after the disappointing end to Roberto Mancini’s reign, but the return to fitness and form of Chiesa is just as important. He is the creative hub of the side, combining with whichever central striker is on the field, as well as Dimarco, Barella and Frattesi. His creation of a gilt-edged chance for the latter was a perfect illustration of his ability to combine running with the ball with perfect delivery.
Ukraine: Trubin 7; Konoplya 6, Svatok 8, Zabarnyi 7, Mykolenko 7; Stepanenko 6, Zinchenko 6; Sudakov 7, Tsygankov 7, Mudryk 7; Dovbyk 6.
Subs: Zubkov 6, Pikhalyonok 6, Tymchyk 6, Sikan 6, Malinovskyi (n/a)
Italy: Donnarumma 7; Di Lorenzo 6, Acerbi 7, Buongiorno 6, Dimarco 7; Jorginho 6; Frattesi 6, Barella 7; Zaniolo 6, Chiesa 8*; Raspadori 7.
Subs: Scamacca 6, Politano 6, Cristante 6, Kean 6, Darmian (n/a).
7’ WHAT A MISS FROM CHIESA! A short corner was clipped to the back post and Zaniolo headed back Raspadori’s cross to him eight yards from goal but with the ball bouncing just in front of him he side-footed over.
14’ SUDAKOV DRIVES AN EFFORT FROM 20 YARDS OUT! And it takes a fine save from Donnarumma diving low to his right to keep it out and push to safety.
30’ FRATTESI ONE-ON-ONE WITH KEEPER! He was slipped in by a fantastic ball from Chiesa but Trubin spread himself and saved with his legs before Svatok cleared the rebound.
33’ CHIESA SLIDES THE BALL BETWEEN KEEPER AND DEFENCE! He drove into the box after taking a ball from Dimarco but it was just in front of the sliding Raspadori.
65’ GREAT STOP FROM DONNARUMMA! He misjudged a cross in the first instance but recovered to race across his goal and spread himself to block Mudryk’s goalbound effort.
90+4′ MUDRYK GOES DOWN IN THE PENALTY AREA! The referee says no penalty. They will certainly check this. It looks like there was contact from Buongiorno. VAR do not change the decision.