Italy impressed in the first half, but hit the bar and were eventually beaten 3-1 by Belgium in a friendly test.
The Red Devils made their first appearance since becoming number one in the FIFA World Rankings and hosted the Azzurri in a prestigious test to prepare for Euro 2016. Played in Brussels, it was also the opportunity to mark the 30th anniversary of Heysel.
Vincent Kompany and Dries Mertens were out injured, while the Azzurri missed Andrea Pirlo, Marco Verratti and Daniele De Rossi.
It took just two minutes and 25 seconds to break the deadlock, as Antonio Candreva started and finished the move. His long ball found Alessandro Florenzi on the other flank, the Roma man set up Graziano Pellè for a shot that Simon Mignolet parried from point-blank range, but only into the path of Candreva. It was the fastest goal scored in the Antonio Conte era.
The Lazio man was wreaking havoc down the left against his former club teammate Pedro Luis Cavanda and again went clear to force a huge save out of Mignolet under the bar.
However, Giorgio Chiellini over-hit his header back to Gigi Buffon and Belgium equalised from that corner, as the Juve defender was again slow, allowing Jan Vertonghen a free header.
It was a surprisingly fiery friendly with a series of yellow cards, while Florenzi wasted a golden opportunity by sprinting the entire length of the pitch only to scuff wide.
There was a very touching moment at the 39th minute, as the teams stopped and the entire crowd stood to applaud as the names of the 39 victims of the Heysel disaster on May 29 1985 were flashed up on the screens.
Eder ballooned over the bar after Florenzi did so well to pull back from the by-line, while Yannick Ferreira Carrasco had a goal ruled offside for scoring from point-blank range.
Moments later De Bruyne threaded through to send Romelu Lukaku clear on goal, but Chiellini made up for earlier errors by performing a decisive sliding tackle in the penalty area.
The hosts started the second half very aggressively, as Vertonghen hit the side-netting and Chiellini charged down a De Bruyne effort. Belgium pinned the Azzurri back and Lukaku hit the post, but only after committing a foul.
Yet Italy almost took the lead against the run of play, as Eder was immensely unlucky to hit the crossbar, then nod the rebound over from point-blank range.
The game evened out after that initial period of pressure, particularly with Roberto Soriano’s introduction, and Florenzi’s free kick was into the wall.
Witsel did not make contact with De Bruyne’s powerful low cross, so it ended up skimming the base of the far post.
Just as Italy seemed to be back in the game, Leonardo Bonucci’s error allowed Michy Batshuayi to get a shot away and Buffon did what he could, but De Bruyne scored on the rebound.
Moments later the Azzurri would’ve equalised again from a corner, but Mignolet performed a stunning one-handed save on Pellè’s header. Stephan El Shaarawy came off the bench and curled just wide with his first move.
However, Batshuayi sprung the offside trap thanks to Bonucci on a Ferreria Carrasco through ball and smashed his finish past Buffon at the near post.
It could've been 4-1 with the last kick of the game, but Batshuayi ballooned over on the counter.
Belgium 3-1 Italy
Scorers: Candreva 3 (I), Vertonghen 13 (B), De Bruyne 74 (B), Batshuayi 82 (B)
Belgium: Mignolet; Cavanda (Denayer 63), Alderweireld, Lombaerts, Vertonghen; Witsel, Nainggolan, De Bruyne; Hazard, Lukaku (Batshuayi 63), Carrasco (Mirallas 87)
Italy: Buffon; Darmian, Bonucci (Barzagli 92), Chiellini, De Sciglio (Antonelli 89); Florenzi (El Shaarawy 80), Marchisio, Parolo (Soriano 59), Candreva; Eder (Zaza 80), Pellè (Okaka 80)
Ref: Marciniak (POL)
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