Italy held of a late onslaught by Belgium to secure a late 2-0 victory over their opponents on Monday at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais in their Euro 2016 curtain raiser.
Emanuele Giaccherini gave Italy a half-time lead after hooking a sensational Leo Bonucci pass over the top to slot home past Courtois before Pelle iced the cake with a late strike to hand the Azzuris maximum points.
Both teams lost important players before the tournament, such as Claudio Marchisio, Vincent Kompany, Marco Verratti and Nicolas Lombaerts.
Antonio Conte’s Azzurri choices have come in for criticism in recent weeks and the controversy continued following Eder’s inclusion in the starting XI despite scoring just one goal in the last six months at Inter. He partners Southampton striker Pellè, while the more defensive Manchester United man Darmian is picked rather than Stephan El Shaarawy on the left. De Rossi pushed Thiago Motta on to the bench.
The defence appeared the only certainty in the squad, lifted wholesale from Juventus.
For Belgium Marc Wilmots made some adjustments, dropping Napoli winger Dries Mertens to bolster the midfield with Marouane Fellaini. Roma star Radja Nainggolan starts, while Chelsea’s Hazard completes the attacking trident with Kevin De Bruyne and Juventus target Romelu Lukaku.
Gigi Buffon made the first save after 10 minutes, palming a fierce Radja Nainggolan strike round the post, and the Roma man drilled another wide.
There was controversy on 23 minutes, as Laurent Ciman seemed to catch Emanuele Giaccherini’s leg in a mistimed tackle, but the referee awarded a goal kick rather than the potential penalty.
Pellè fired just wide from 20 metres and Italy took the lead when Leo Bonucci placed a ball over the top for Giaccherini’s great first touch on the left foot before curling it past Thibaut Courtois with his right.
Amusingly, Coach Conte was left with a cut lip after Simone Zaza over-celebrated in his touchline hug. Moments later, Courtois saw his gloves stung by a ferocious Candreva strike, then Pellè steered a free header inches wide with the goalkeeper rooted to the spot.
Belgium tried shooting from distance, Axel Witsel wide and Kevin De Bruyne charged down, while Candreva’s assist for Pellè was slightly behind him.
After the break, it was end to end display as Candreva hesitated and allowed Vertonghen to block his shot, then Belgium went on a rapid counter and Lukaku’s lob was inches over the empty net, as Buffon had rushed out to narrow the striker’s options.
Courtois needed a fingertip save to deny another Pellè header and there was another splendid Bonucci pass over the top, but Eder’s first touch did not match Giaccherini’s for the goal. The Red Devils increasingly pegged back a tired Italy and Eder took one for the team by wrestling Dries Mertens to the ground on the counter.
Belgium moved to three at the back in the final 15 minutes, as Divock Origi’s header was just over from seven yards, but on the counter Ciro Immobile’s strike was palmed out from under the bar by a one-handed Courtois save.
Belgium went on the front foot as both Origi and Fellaini failed to make the most of a dangerous cross, allowing Marco Parolo to shepherded it back to Buffon with his chest.
And just when Belgium thought they could get something out of the game, Italy made the most of the counter deep into stoppages with Pelle’ left to comfortably volley home from six yards.
The Red Devils had only ever beaten Italy once in competitive games, 2-1 in the 1972 European Championship quarter-final, with two draws and two Azzurri wins.
Belgium XI: Courtois; Ciman, Alderweireld, Vermaelen, Vertonghen; Witsel, Nainggolan; De Bruyne, Fellaini, Hazard; R Lukaku
Italy XI: Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Candreva, Parolo, De Rossi, Giaccherini, Darmian; Pellè, Eder