Emanuele Giaccherini and Graziano Pelle got Italy off to a winning start last night to sink fellow Group E heavyweights Belgium.
Giaccherini has hardly set the world alight in three years at Sunderland – and spent last season on loan at Serie A Bologna – but he ignited Italy’s Euro 2016 challenge with a superb strike.
The winger coolly despatched a sublime ball over the top from Leonardo Bonucci in the first half, and Pelle volleyed a second in stoppage time to settle the eagerly-anticipated clash.
Belgium’s big names failed to spark for much of the game, with Romelu Lukaku missing their best chance before he was substituted with 20 minutes remaining. Belgium at least looked like they could be threatening in the opening skirmishes with Roma midfielder Radja Nainggolan’s fierce drive forcing a fine save from 38-year-old Italian Gianluigi Buffon.
But the Italians made the breakthrough in the 32nd minute when Leonardo Bonucci carved open the Belgium defence with a lofted ball from the halfway line.
Giaccherini peeled away from his marker, took one touch with his left foot and clinically tucked the ball past Thibaut Courtois with his right.
With Belgium’s defence suddenly all over the place Courtois had to beat away a fierce drive from Antonio Candreva before Pelle planted a free header wide from a corner with the goal gaping.
Belgium’s night was summed up a minute from time when Divock Origi completely missed with an attempted header and the ball ricocheted between Marouane Fellaini’s legs before somehow ending up in the hands of Buffon.
Moments later Italy broke and Pelle thumped in a volley.