A second-half cameo appearance off the bench by Kevin De Bruyne’s couldn’t prevent Belgium losing the UEFA Nations League Third Place Play-off.
Two goals in the space of 13 minutes proved enough to clinch third place for European champions Italy after seeing their 37-match unbeaten run end against Spain in midweek.
De Bruyne, who claimed two assists in the enthralling 3-2 semi-final defeat to France, was initially rested by manager Roberto Martinez after his exertions against Les Bleus.
But with almost an hour played and the Azzurri already leading by Nicolo Barella’s sensational volley just after the start of the second period, the City playmaker was summoned to try and help change the course of the game at the San Siro.
But his task became even harder when he’d only been on the pitch a couple of minutes as Roberto Mancini’s side were awarded a penalty on 63 minutes.
Federico Chiesa skipped past Timothy Castagne who brought the industrious Juventus forward down and the referee awarded a penalty that Domenico Berardi tucked past Thibaut Courtois to make it 2-0.
The Red Devils, without the influential Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard, were far from their best – but they never stopped trying, with De Bruyne inevitably driving them forward.
On 82 minutes, the City star created a late opportunity for Yannick Carrasco, rolling the ball across the edge of the box for Carrasco to strike against the post.
And four minutes from time, Italy switched off as Chiesa’s corner was gathered by Courtois who threw it out to De Bruyne who carried the ball into the Italians’ half before playing a slide rule pass allowed Charles de Ketelaere to squeeze a shot through the legs of Gianluigi Donnarumma to halve the deficit.
But there was to be no equaliser as Italy held out to win 2-1, with the final to be played this evening between Spain and France.
As for De Bruyne, his 120 minutes of UEFA Nations League action yielded three assists for his team-mates.