LYON, France, June 14: The jubilant scenes were reminiscent of Italy's triumph at the 2006 World Cup after the final whistle in Lyon on Monday night.
"We did really well to prepare this game so well and prove all the critics wrong, because the critics were all against us," said Italy coach Antonio Conte, who got a bloody nose in the celebrations that followed Emanuele Giaccherini's first-half opener.
"But this is the beauty of football. You get the chance to prove people wrong, if you have the determination and will to work like we have."
Another goal in stoppage time from Graziano Pelle, combined with excellent defending, helped Italy to its resounding win over one of the tournament favorites.
Victory against the odds also sent Italy to the top of Group E, after Ireland opened its campaign with a 1-1 draw against Sweden in the earlier game.
"Our players understood that they needed to do extraordinary things to make sure they are talked about," Conte said.
Fielding a team with top Premier League players including Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku, Belgium dominated the early stages but was made to pay for the errors of a makeshift defense and a lack of finishing up front.
Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who kept Belgium in the match until the very end with a series of saves, said Italy "outclassed us tactically."
Belgium coach Marc Wilmots was also aware of his team's shortcomings, but tried to be upbeat.
"We paid cash for our errors. And we can't win matches if we don't convert our chances," Wilmots said. "But it's not finished, we've got two matches left to reach the round of 16."
Belgium enjoyed most of the possession in the early stages but struggled to get past Italy'sexperienced three-man backline of Juventus defenders Giorgio Chiellini, Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli.
With the caps they earned on Monday, the three now have a total of 200 appearances for Italy.
"Our defense was fantastic and I think we have the best defense at the Euros," Giaccherini said. "We all had to help each other and to try, when we had the ball, to hurt them."
Missing injured captain Vincent Kompany and regular starter Nicolas Lombaerts, the Belgium defense had certainly showed signs of weakness.
The match ended with a frantic finish, with Pelle volleying home in stoppage time from Candreva's cross.