The date was November 17th 2017, where 74,000 fans in a white-hot atmosphere at the San Siro in Milan witnessed something never been done before on the international stage. It put the team under intense scrutiny like never before.
Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time six decades after losing its two-leg playoff to Sweden, 1-0, on aggregate.
The defeat might have felt like the end of the world for Italian football fans. A similar feeling also judged by many of its older generations who had won the world cup in 2006. Players like Gigi Buffon, who would have been competing in his sixth world cup, cried on television and apologized for his sides lacklustre display
I’m not sorry for myself but all of Italian football, because we failed at something which also means something on a social level.
“It’s the only regret I have. Not stopping, because time passes and it’s normal. I regret just that my final match with the national side coincides with an elimination.
Gazzetta Dello Sport described the loss like the “apocalypse” in their headline for the match report.
The four-time winners were at a low point not seen in footballing circles since 1958. It was time for a reset. I will explain why people are sleeping on Italy as winners of the competition this summer.
Italian football and Serie A has developed a tag as old folks home due to the often wrong perception that it’s slower than other leagues. Players like Del Piero, Giorgio Chiellini, Gianluigi Buffon, Leonardo Bonucci, and Daniele De Rossi were all still plying their trade for the national team when that disaster in Milan happened.
This squad has a younger core to it. Players who have experience have mixed with young, hungry players to take the European Championships by storm. Players like Inter Milan’s 22-year-old Alessandro Bastoni (22), Manuel Locatelli, the Sassuolo midfielder (23), AC Milan keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma (22) and Federico Chiesa, the Juventus forward (23) all add fresh blood to the Italian team.
Many pundits have not given the Italian time much air time or exposure to deciding favourites this year, and this has been all directed towards England, France, Belgium and Spain.
Italy is 8/1 with some bookies to lift the trophy in July. Italy’s track record in the competition is not too shabby. Italy has participated in 9 UEFA European Championships (with an upcoming tournament in 2020) and ended in the final on three occasions. They became European champions at home in 1968, the first European Championship they qualified for, and became tournament runners-up in Belgium/Netherlands 2000 and Poland/Ukraine 2012.
With an experienced manager like Roberto Mancini, the Italians could go very far in the tournament. During qualifying, Mancini broke a record from the 1930s by leading the Azzurri to 11 consecutive victories, and this was previously held by double world cup winning manager: Vittorio Pozzo.
Italy qualified with three games to spare with a goal difference of +33. Only Belgium performed better. Mancini’s Italian side also are unbeaten in 25 games, equalling the 2006 World Cup-winning side led by Marcello Lippi. The Azzurri only conceded four goals in qualifying, winning all ten games, and they also scored 37.
Midfield for the Italians, for me, is an area where they excel. Talent is abundant in the middle of the park, and I do not doubt that some of these players will be in the shop window come to the end of the window. Marco Verrati, Nicolò Barella and Manuel Locatelli are all outstanding players that know how to play. Barella has just won a league with Inter, and many top clubs around Europe are chasing Manuel Locatelli.
The service to the likes of Chiesa and Insigne this summer could be a lethal combination. We already know how the Italians are the masters of defending, but their playmakers are of a top-quality level that the world will soon see on an international stage.
Chiesa for me is one player that could have a stellar summer. His talent is phenomenal. The son of former Italian footballer Enrico Chiesa can also play. A notable attacking duo with Roberto Mancini, the current manager, this could be the summer that clubs and fans stand up and see how how good the younger Chiesa is.
I cannot see why people haven’t included Italy in winners’ shouts. The Italians rarely fail to deliver when they make it to a tournament, and this year would be no different. I may be Irish and come from a country that has thwarted the Italians in the past with Ray Houghton’s goal in 1994 and Shane Long’s goal in 2016, but I wish nothing but a win for the Italians this summer.
featured image credit sky sports