After picking up three massive points at the Stadio Paolo Mazza in Ferrara, the National Women’s Team are now just one step away from reaching the World Cup. The Azzurre beat Belgium 2-1 on Tuesday, solidifying their spot at the top of the standings with now an eight-point gap between Belgium (who do have a game in hand) and themselves. For Italy, there are just two games remaining – both in June – the first against Portugal and the second away to Belgium.
In what was a difficult game, Italy put in a fantastic performance against Belgium, duly coming back after Cayman opened the scoring with a penalty in the 37th minute. Other than showing technical ability, the Azzurre also demonstrated heart and character in overcoming their opponents. Goals from Rosucci and Girelli got the home side ahead, while Giugliano also went close to making it three with a shot that hit the post late on.
It was a celebratory affair for all involved on Tuesday, including the city of Ferrara who welcomed Milena Bertolini’s side with open arms. It was a particularly special match for Sara Gama, with the Juventus and National Women’s team captain making her 100th appearance in the Azzurre shirt. Prior to kick-off, she was given an honorary award by the FIGC’s vice-commissioner Alessandro Costacurta (“It’s a great achievement; she reminds a lot of Cannavaro. She has the same ability to anticipate and the same charisma”) and CEO Michele Uva.
It was a hard-fought first half, with the Azzurre pushed back for the opening 10 minutes due to high pressing from the opposition. However, the first real chance fell to Italy in the 13th minute, with an effort from Girelli just missing by inches. Fresh from their draw with Portugal, Belgium soon responded strongly, duly taking the lead in the 37th minute thanks to a converted penalty from Cayman.
This was the wake-up call needed for Milena Bertolini’s side, who successfully levelled the scoreline just five minutes later with Rosucci finishing well at the back post. Played out in front of 7500 enthusiastic supporters and also individuals from the FIGC’s youth sector and local clubs, the Azzurre very nearly doubled their lead two minutes later, although Guagni was unable to find the back of the net.
The second half started with Belgium on the front foot, looking to rely heavily on their physicality. However, the hosts gritted their teeth and found the decisive winner in the 80th minute through Girelli. The drama continued as the game entered its final stages, although Milena Bertolini’s side kept possession well and even struck the woodwork through Giugliano.
There were tears of joy from Milena Bertolini after the match: “It was a really important game,” she said. “To win at home against Belgium was to be the cherry on the cake and we’ve now achieved this. The girls were incredible and they completely deserve all of this. They are a technically-gifted side but also have solid temperament and heart. These are three vital points for us, however, we are still well aware that there are two games remaining, against Portugal and Belgium in June. This win obviously gives us confidence and a morale boost in reaching our goal. It was really important for us, but also for our movement and the many kids who want to play football.”
Schedule, results and standings from Group 6
15 September: ITALY-Moldova 5-0
19 September: Romania-ITALY 0-1
19 September: Belgium-Moldova 12-0
20 October: Belgium-Romania 3-2
24 October: ITALY-Romania 3-0
24 October: Portugal-Belgium 0-1
24 November: Portugal-Moldova 8-0
28 November: Romania-Moldova 3-1
28 November: Portugal-ITALY 0-1
6 April: Moldova-ITALY 1-3
6 April: Belgium-Portugal 1-1
10 April: ITALY-Belgium 2-1
10 April: Moldova-Romania
8 June: ITALY-Portugal
12 June: Romania-Portugal
Standings: Italy 18, Belgium 10, Portugal 4, Romania 3, Moldova 0