The upcoming Euros can become a stage of redemption for the Azzurri after years of lingering in the shadows ever since 2006.
Ever since winning the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Italy has been a side that has only shown glimpses of its clinical past self. Possibly their lowest moment in recent history was when they failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Following the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, fans were of the belief that it could not get any worse for the Azzurri, but failing to qualify in 2018 was clearly the bottom of the barrel. What can be concurred in a positive way from Italy’s slump is that it actually cannot get any worse. There have been signs of marked improvement from the side ever since Roberto Mancini’s arrival as head coach.
One of Italy’s biggest problems in the past decade has been playing senior players, who are way past their prime and on the verge of retirement, in every single competition. Thus, when the 26-man squad was announced for the Euros, fans heaved a sigh of relief, as the Azzurri team is possibly one of the most well-balanced sides in terms of youth and experience in the competition. It has been a while since the world has seen the four-time world champions in action in an international tournament. People are unsure what to expect, and quite frankly, expectations are not high. But that is not a disadvantage. The lack of pressure to perform at the absolute highest level might just be the catalyst for the Azzurri to play to the best of their capabilities, and maybe even shock the world and earn their first European trophy.
The famed Italian defense: If there is one thing the Italians can do better than anyone else, it is defending. Over the years, their defensive style of football has been criticized for being too dull, but nobody can question its effectiveness. This squad is not any different. At the back are experienced defenders in the form of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, who have been playing together at the highest level for several years now. The wingbacks are also not only adept defenders, but pacey and lethal going forward. The likes of Alessandro Florenzi, Leonardo Spianzzola, and Emerson can initiate deadly counter atacks and deliver pinpoint crosses. Not only will the Azzurri have a tight defence, but they will also have players who can turn defence into attack in an instant.
World-class wingers: Throughout the qualifiers and friendlies leading up to the Euros, the Italians have displayed a high quality of wing play. Most of their attacks have come from the wings and have resulted in exceptional goals. With the likes of Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Chiesa, the versatile Federico Bernardeschi, and the likes of Lorenzo Pellegrini and Stefano Sensi, the Italian wing attack will be something to look out for.
The Mancini way: Something Roberto Mancini has achieved, that is actually quite remarkable, is make Italy an attacking side. They no longer rely on a single-goal advantage to see out games with their defensive prowess. The former Manchester City manager has instilled the spirit of attacking football with flair. They recently thrashed Czech Republic 4-0, in a match in which they were the more positive. Mancini’s influence can see an Italy no team will perhaps not expect at the Euros.
The number 9 dilemma: If one looks at Italy’s striker options, they might think that the side is well equipped. With the likes of Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti, it is hard to see how the number 9 can be an issue of the Azzurri. However, the problem is that neither of the two has been able to perform that well at the national level. It will be an area of concern for Mancini and fans will hope for at least one of them to gain some form going into the tournament.
Lacking creativity in midfield: Their wing play might be good, but if the Azzurri are to go deep into the tournament, they must create more chances from midfield. In the Czech Republic game, there were several instances where a slick pass could have cut through the defense, but nobody seemed to have that midfielder’s instinct. It will not be an issue if Marco Verratti is 100% at the tournament, but right now, midfield creativity seems to be a major area of concern for the Italians.
The tournament might prove to be a testing ground for goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma to cement his place on the Italian side. His predecessor, Gianluigi Buffon, is hailed as one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time and had dominated that position for several years. Yes, it will be an immensely difficult task for the AC Milan keeper to come out of Buffon’s shadow and be the next great Italian goalie, but the Euros is perhaps the best stage for him to do so.
Despite improving steadily over the years, there remains a fear in the hearts of Italian fans. It is quite simply getting out of the group stage. Although they have qualified to the knockout stages in the Euros regularly, the trauma of crashing out in the group stages in two consecutive world cups, and not qualifying for the next one, is very real. The players may also feel the pressure and should they not be able to cope with it, it might be yet another tournament to forget for the Azzurri.