(Reuters) - After squeezing past Austria in extra-time to reach the Euro 2020 quarter-finals, Italy coach Roberto Mancini said he had expected Saturday's clash to be more challenging than their next tie against either Belgium or Portugal.
The game finished 0-0 after 90 minutes before goals from substitutes Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina were enough to send the Italian's through, although Sasa Kalajdzic’s late goal led to a nervy ending.
Italy were big favourites to progress after winning all three group games but they were far from their free-flowing best as they edged Franco Foda’s side to book a last-eight showdown against Belgium or Portugal.
“We knew there would be some potential banana skins in this match and we thought it might even be tougher than the quarter-final,” Mancini told a news conference.
“Of course, Austria are not as good as the teams we will face in the next round, but they really make life tough for you. We watched a lot of their matches and they do cause problems.
“We knew that if we scored in the first half it would have been a different game. We didn’t manage to and so we had to dig deep. The players really wanted to win at all costs.”
The Italy players breathed a sigh of relief after 65 minutes when Marko Arnautovic’s goal was ruled out for offside following a VAR review.
“There was still some time to go and we would have been able to get back into the match, but I would have been disappointed to concede the goal because we could have broken the deadlock in the first half, we dominated,” Mancini said.
“We struggled a bit more in the second half because Austria are a tough nut to crack, they make life very difficult for the opposition.”
The leading strikers of Italy’s next potential opponents, Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal and Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku, will be familiar to Mancini's players as they play their club football in Serie A with Juventus and Inter Milan respectively.
But Mancini would not be drawn into saying which player he would rather avoid in the next round in Munich.
“When you get into the quarter-finals, it is not that easy. Ideally we would like to avoid both, but that is not possible,” he said.
(Reporting by Alasdair Mackenzie, editing by Pritha Sarkar)