Ahead of this summer’s Euros, Sports Mole previews the chances of in-form Italy, as they look to lift the Henri Delaunay Trophy for the first time since 1968.
During the 12-month delay endured by fans across the continent, the Azzurri have gone from strength to strength under Roberto Mancini and now take a long unbeaten record into this year’s main event on the football calendar.
The former Manchester City manager will be aware, then, that expectation is growing throughout the peninsula, as since taking the reins in May 2018 he has posted the highest win rate of any Italy manager in history – coming out on top in more than two-thirds of his 32 games to date. In the process, his new-look squad have racked up 79 goals, while conceding just 14.
With the ink still drying on a freshly-signed contract that runs until 2026, Mancini has helped his nation bounce back from the bitter humiliation of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and edge closer to their former status as a team to be feared.
Undoubtedly, the steely-eyed coach will now want to demonstrate his side’s recent rebirth on the grand stage, with a place in the final four considered a minimum requirement.
This week, Italy’s quest for continental glory begins on home soil, in Rome, where La Nazionale will play each of their group stage games and their ever enthusiastic ‘tifosi’ expect them to still be standing in July, once this uniquely-staged event reaches its showpiece finale at Wembley.
Here, then, Sports Mole considers Italy’s chances at this summer’s championships, as they seek a first European title since 1968.
Though their task will be far from straightforward, the challenge of emerging from Group A – which Italy will contest with Turkey, Wales and neighbours Switzerland in the coming weeks – is certainly well within their means.
Having been housed at the iconic Stadio Olimpico for all three games, the Italians will not only enjoy home advantage but also have the lion’s share of support, with away fans at a strict minimum throughout.
June 11: Turkey vs. Italy (8pm, Stadio Olimpico, Rome)
June 16: Italy vs. Switzerland (8pm, Stadio Olimpico, Rome)
June 20: Italy vs. Wales (5pm, Stadio Olimpico, Rome)
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
Italy’s regeneration as a modern, ambitious footballing nation was confirmed during the qualification campaign, as Roberto Mancini’s men cruised their way to the finals with a perfect record.
Rattling in goals at a rate of over 3.5 per game, while conceding a mere four at the other end, the Azzurri won ten from ten in a group featuring relatively modest competitors such as Greece, Finland and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Becoming only the sixth national side to qualify for a European Championship with a 100% record, Italy started out with a 2-0 victory over Finland, who would ultimately finish as their closest rivals (some 12 points adrift by the end of the process) and ended with a 9-1 destruction of Armenia in Palermo, when seven different scorers struck the target.
While the Finns’ star striker Teemu Pukki would comfortably finish top scorer in the section with 10 goals, the Italians shared the goalscoring burden, as Andrea Belotti‘s total of four proved their highest individual tally. Midfielders Jorginho and Nicolo Barella both bagged three, while forwards Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne were the others to find the net three times on the road to the finals.
More than anything else, during their stroll through an admittedly soft group, Mancini managed to re-define La Nazionale in his own image: forging forward in his flexible 4-3-3 formation, in which they played out from the back and determined the rhythm of each game.
Losing just twice since he took charge in 2018, Roberto Mancini has overseen a well-oiled side that have only conceded 14 goals during that time.
However, the foundation of his overhaul has been a more progressive and varied playing style, with several forward options helping to steer Italy to new goalscoring heights.
Napoli’s diminutive schemer Lorenzo Insigne seems to be peaking as he hits his thirties, young Federico Chiesa has been a rare shining light in a grim year for Juventus, while the Sassuolo pairing of Domenico Berardi and Giacomo Raspadori are largely unknown to international audiences but ended the Serie A season in scintillating form.
Incorporating such a varied array of attackers during the past year, the Azzurri have built on their Euros qualifying success by reaching the semi-finals of the ongoing Nations League.
Taking four points from two encounters with a similarly resurgent Netherlands team – following their 1-0 win in Amsterdam with a tightly-contested draw in Bergamo – they will next meet Spain, in October, for the right to contest the final of Europe’s newest international competition.
Since the process got underway in the spring, Italy have also claimed three wins from three on the road to Qatar 2022, while extending their unbeaten home record in World Cup qualifiers to a staggering 56 games. In all, they have now gone undefeated in their last 27 outings, including warm-up friendlies with San Marino and the Czech Republic – which they won by an aggregate score of eleven goals to nil.
Defenders: Francesco Acerbi (Lazio), Alessandro Bastoni (Inter), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Giovanni Di Lorenzo (Napoli), Emerson Palmieri (Chelsea), Alessandro Florenzi (Paris Saint Germain), Leonardo Spinazzola (Roma), Rafael Toloi (Atalanta)
Forwards: Andrea Belotti (Torino), Domenico Berardi (Sassuolo), Federico Bernardeschi (Juventus), Federico Chiesa (Juventus), Ciro Immobile (Lazio), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli), Giacomo Raspadori (Sassuolo)
STAR PLAYER – Jorginho
Italy’s midfield options will be among the very best this summer’s tournament has to offer, with Nicolo Barella, Marco Verratti and new-boy Manuel Locatelli among the gifted operators available to the Azzurri.
It is, however, unsung hero Jorginho – born in Brazil, but a naturalised Italian for many years now – and Verratti that are habitually charged with controlling possession in the engine room, while Barella breaks into the final third.
The Chelsea midfielder has not only been crowned a European champion at club level in recent weeks, but was also named as the most effective player in the Premier League this term, in data generated by the respected CIES Football Observatory. The metronomic passing abilities of the former Napoli and Verona man helped him top the table in England; coming in third behind Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski across Europe’s top five leagues.
As a holding midfielder, Jorginho is not a regular demonstrator of match-winning brilliance – though can boast a deadly record from the penalty spot – with his game instead centred on contributing to the collective cause.
Few cover more ground or pass more accurately, so his perfect marriage of Brazilian technique with a typically resilient Italian mentality should help him to shine during his first major competition for his adopted nation.
MANAGER – Roberto Mancini
Having recently signed a new deal that runs until the 2026 World Cup, the former Lazio and Sampdoria striker first took the reins at Italy’s Coverciano headquarters in May 2018, in the bleak aftermath of failure to qualify for the 2018 finals in Russia.
Since, ‘Il Mancio’ has led the Azzurri to qualification for both the Euros and the semi-final stage of the Nations League; claiming three wins from as many Qatar 2022 qualifiers so far.
The ex-Manchester City boss has not only transformed the playing style of La Nazionale, but has also managed to extend his nation’s long unbeaten streak in home World Cup qualifiers after previously racking up 11 straight wins throughout 2019 – breaking a national record that had stood since the 1930s.
Not afraid to take tough decisions – such as surprisingly omitting talented striker Moise Kean from the squad after his commitment in the recent friendly with San Marino was apparently not up to scratch – Mancini is considered a reserved figure away from the touchline. However, pitchside, he can demonstrate an explosive side.
Capped 36 times as a player, during a spell of extraordinary attacking riches as Serie A sides dominated Europe, the cultured talents of Mancini are still lauded by former clubs Lazio and Sampdoria. Meanwhile, his managerial roles – including at City and twice taking the helm at Inter – have reaped the reward of several trophies at home and abroad.
EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP RECORD
Best finish: Winners (1968)
Though Italy are notoriously serial winners on the global stage, their record in European competition has been relatively underwhelming.
Since emerging triumphant in the 1968 finals on home soil – with a team featuring such luminaries as Dino Zoff, Luigi Riva and Giacinto Facchetti – a series of Azzurri sides have returned to the peninsula empty-handed. Fourth-placed finishes in 1980 and 1988 were followed by a humiliating failure to make Sweden ’92, while there were disappointing group stage exits in both 1996 and 2004.
Twice this century Italy have come within 90 minutes of reclaiming the continental crown, though, as a heartbreaking golden goal from David Trezeguet denied them a penalty shootout at Euro 2000, and a limited side overachieved in reaching the final of the 2012 edition, where they were thumped 4-0 by Spain.
Their most recent attempt, in France five years ago, ended at the quarter-final stage following a shootout defeat to Germany. Few members of that squad will return this time around, though Leonardo Bonucci and Lorenzo Insigne were among the men to step up to the spot on that fateful night in Bordeaux.
Passage to the final eight should be a straightforward task for a squad of the talent and experience of Italy’s, but depending on how the draw develops, further progress could perhaps prove elusive.
A possible meeting with Belgium in the quarter-finals would prove a stern test of their recently-earned credentials, with such an encounter sure to be closely fought between two talented sides.
Much relies on whether one of the Azzurri’s strikers can find form in the coming month, as almost every other aspect of their first XI looks primed for success.