Goals from Giacomo Raspadori and Federico Dimarco steered Italy through to the Nations League finals at Hungary’s expense, as the visitors claimed a 2-0 win in Budapest.
Heading into Monday’s final fixture in Group A3, Hungary needed only a draw to complete a remarkable run through the competition to next year’s four-team fight for the top prize.
But Roberto Mancini’s European champions, still smarting from their failure to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, delivered a composed performance to break their opponents’ hearts in a taut encounter.
Marco Rossi’s side can nevertheless take pride in their achievements, following a campaign that saw them defeat England twice and Germany once to finish second in the end.
Amid raucous home support urging them on to make history, they had looked bullish from the off, with Dominik Szoboszlai offering an early threat for the hosts.
But Hungary were undone by their lacklustre awareness at the back, and when Wilfried Gnonto pressed Adam Nagy’s soft back-pass off Peter Gulacsi, Raspadori was able to round the prone keeper for a simple finish.
Italy held a one-goal lead through to the interval, and it took just seven minutes for them to double it afterwards, with Dimarco getting across Loic Nego at the far post to crash Bryan Cristante’s cross into the roof of the net.
Hungary pushed for a response late on, but none was forthcoming – and with the full-time whistle, it was the Azzurri who booked their spot alongside Croatia and the Netherlands for next year’s finale.
What does it mean? Azzurri back on top
It has been a difficult 2022 for Italy, who crashed back to earth with the humiliation of a second successive qualifying failure for the World Cup.
But Roberto Mancini has been backed to the post after last year’s success, and he has ended this international window by handing the nation another shot at silverware next year.
Raspadori reinforces fresh blood
A second goal in as many games for the youngster makes him just the second Italy player born this century to do so, after Moise Kean. After the changing of the guard following Euro 2020, the Napoli loanee is staking his claim for the future.
Hungary hold their own again
Downed by two goals on their own turf was not the way Rossi would have hoped Hungary to end their campaign, after his former Sampdoria team-mate Mancini got the better of him.
But with 13 shots and six on target – to Italy’s 11 and three – they can still be proud of their go-for-broke delight, even as they come up short.
Neither side is set for the Qatar 2022 World Cup, but they will have friendlies around its start date. Italy will face Albania on November 16 and Hungary to meet Luxembourg a day later.