From Fellaini’s new blonde hair to Italians doing what they are expected to do best, defend, here are five takeaways from Italy’s 2-0 win over Belgium in their Group E opener:
Graziano Pelle disappoints
Yes he scored but his performance didn’t merit name on the scoresheet. At 30, the Southampton forward is still relatively new to the Italian set up, having made his senior debut at 28. With Mario Balotelli well and truly proving to be a flop and not being picked in the squad, coach Antonio Conte was left with Pelle and Ciro Immobile as his main strikers.
Italy chose to rely on tactics rather than individual flair and 10 of the players delivered. Pelle, however, seemed out of sorts -- missing an open header in the first half. He was also missing from most of the build-up play and one wonders if the Azzurri would be better off starting with Immobile against Sweden on Friday.
Italy’s three-man defence holds firm
Conte’s pressing from the back system won him plaudits when he was the manager of Juventus but he hasn’t quite been able to replicate it since taking over as the Italian coach. Belgium even enjoyed more of the ball, against Italians! Thankfully the Belgium forward line -- with the likes of Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne -- failed to live up to expectations, allowing the defensive line of Leonardo Bonucci , Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli room for error, with Gianluigi Buffon making some outstanding saves. Ibrahimovic and Co may not be as forgiving.
Belgium main men fail to make a mark
Hazard had a pathetic season with Chelsea, with the winger promising to make amends next season. If he planned to start with the Euros, he has one game less to do so. The winger had a few good moments on Monday, with his first touch serving him well but failed to find a pass in the final third. His target man Lukaku -- Everton want 50m pounds for him -- missed an open chance with only Buffon to beat in the 53rd. Finally, De Bruyne, who Manchester City did pay 50m pounds for, completed the trio of duds. He failed to do what he is in the team for -- create chances.
Fellaini’s blonde hair (because it needs to be addressed)
Maybe he did it just so people could tell him and teammate Axel Witsel apart. Mission accomplished. But, if Marouane Fellaini thought he could go blonde and turn into a new and improved version of himself, he now knows he cannot.
After another mediocre season with Manchester United -- notwithstanding a few performances -- Fellaini would have hoped to make an impression on new United manager Jose Mourinho, with reports that the pair have already spoken about his future with the club. Against Italy, he lumbered along like an Amaltas tree (golden shower), not really doing anything but getting into the box and getting in the way of others. He must change his game, and fast, if he wants to have any future with United, or even Belgium.
Kompany is missed
After an injury-plagued season with Manchester City, it was hoped that Belgium captain Vincent Kompany would be fit in time for the Euros. Indeed, there were signs he would be but the 30-year-old ended up injuring himself again and wasn’t on the flight to France. His absence, not only as the captain but also as one of the more experienced players in the squad, deprived Marc Wilmots’ side of a leader in defence.
One could argue that had he been in the team, Emanuele Giaccherini may not have scored the opening goal. This is not to undermine the goal -- a result of an excellent pass from Bonucci and ball control on the part of Giaccherini -- but would he have had as much time to finish had Kompany been there to read the pass? You never know.