Italy finally get real test up against Serie A’s leading marksman Romelu Lukaku
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MUNICH - Doubters over Italy's chances of going all the way at Euro 2020 have pointed to their comfortable path to the quarter-finals, but that will all change on Friday, up against a Belgium side whose leading marksman knows the Italians all too well.
Romelu Lukaku enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career in 2020-21, voted player of the year in Italy's Serie A as the Belgium forward fired Inter Milan to their first top-flight title in 11 years.
Next in his sights are club team mates and players used to trying to stop him on a weekly basis in Serie A as Belgium and Italy, who have won four out of four games each at Euro 2020, go head to head in Munich in the last eight.
Italy are on a record unbeaten run of 31 matches, last losing back in September 2018 against Portugal. However, such a run has not convinced everyone, given Roberto Mancini's side have beaten lower-ranked opposition in Switzerland, Turkey, Wales and Austria so far.
With Lukaku in town, spearheading the attack for the world's top-ranked team according to FIFA, Italy will have no such easy ride.
"We know Lukaku well because we also face him in Serie A," Italy and Napoli defender Giovanni Di Lorenzo told UEFA.com. "We know he is a great striker, he had a wonderful season with Inter.
"He is to be kept under observation, but Belgium have many strong players and it will be a great match.
"The further you go, the stronger teams you face, but the approach is always the same."
Lukaku's 24 league goals last season for Inter represents his second-best career return for a domestic campaign, but his chances of adding to his three Euro 2020 strikes so far could be affected by key injuries to two of his chief providers.
Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, who made the joint-second most assists in the English Premier League last season, suffered an ankle injury in Belgium's 1-0 last-16 win over Portugal, while captain Eden Hazard limped off with a leg muscle problem.
Both could be fit for Friday's clash, but should either not make it, facing a defence who conceded their first goal in 19 hours and 28 minutes against Austria last Saturday, Lukaku could be in for a tough afternoon.
But those resolute Azzurri defenders know from experience that he should be underestimated at their peril.