Soccer - Belgium undone by slow first-half start, coach says

·2-min read
Euro 2020 - Quarter Final - Belgium v Italy

MUNICH (Reuters) - Belgium coach Roberto Martínez praised his player's efforts in their 2-1 Euro 2020 quarter-final loss to Italy on Friday but said his side did not really create chances until the second half when small margins decided a breathless encounter.

Italy scored twice from Nicolo Barella and Lorenzo Insigne before Belgium's Romelu Lukaku converted a penalty, all before half-time.

Both sides had chances to score after the break but Italy held on for a 13th consecutive win to extend their record unbeaten run to 32 games.

"Italy is a team that has been growing in the last month. You can see the victories are building a lot of strength," Martinez told a news conference.

"This allowed them to start the first half better. In the second half we got into the game better and we were able to create chances."

Martinez also gave Jeremy Doku a start and his lively performance caused problems for the Azzurri defence all night. He threatened a late equaliser when he cut in from the wing to lash a shot at goal, but it flew inches over the bar.

Doku also won the first-half penalty for Belgium and Martinez said the player put in a shift that belied the 19-year old forward's age.

"Jeremy has been growing in the camp and the last three days he showed he was ready as you saw today," Martinez said.

"It was clear he had that energy we could use. He never looked like a young player in that game. I don't think the occasion got to him at all."

Martinez brushed aside a question about his future, saying the first thing he wanted to do was analyse what went wrong.

"The feelings are sadness and disappointment because I don't feel like these players need to be out of this tournament. The players did everything they could to get as far as we could," he said.

"It was two very good teams in this knockout stage and the margins went to them."

(Reporting by Michael Kahn; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

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