Azzurri bat away old doubts

by | Jun 20, 2021 20:07

Italy didn’t need to get out of first gear to dominate Group A, as Susy Campanale sees the usual critiques cast aside.

People must be running out of excuses to doubt this Italy side by now. A record-equalling 30-game unbeaten run, 11 consecutive victories with clean sheets and 32 goals scored. Even the old traditional mainstays of Azzurri criticism are falling by the wayside after a transformed side didn’t get out of second gear to beat Wales.

No strength in depth? Try changing eight of the starting XI and then introduce second-choice goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu as well, just to rub it in. Now only Alex Meret, the third pick for the gloves, hasn’t featured in this Euro 2020 campaign. Boring and defensive, they score one and then sit back to protect their lead? Not this Nazionale. Even in a game where a point would’ve been sufficient to top Group A, they still poured forward trying to add more goals after Matteo Pessina’s smart flick on a Marco Verratti free kick.

Yet some will continue to argue Italy haven’t been tested, that they lack pace and power, as if those are everything in a sport that is after all supposed to be about skill more than how hard you can hit the ball. You can run at someone all day, but if you don’t have the gentle touch to keep the ball in play and pull it back from the by-line, it’s all futile. Just ask Federico Bernardeschi, the master of the wasted effort. We can only beat those in front of us, and I don’t think Turkey, Switzerland and Wales are necessarily less of a challenge than Scotland, Hungary or Sweden.

Optimism isn’t something Italians are good at in sport, or in life generally, but even we are finding it hard to pick the negatives from this team. They make everything seem so comfortable, so beautiful. Roberto Mancini joked when asked about how attractive the team is that they are ‘handsome lads,’ but a nation accused for decades of being dull should be relishing this explosion of gorgeous football, especially in comparison to the snoozeworthy sideways passing of Spain or even England.

It’s no coincidence that Matteo Pessina, Domenico Berardi and Manuel Locatelli have made their mark for Italy in this tournament so far, because Atalanta and Sassuolo absolutely influenced this Nazionale. Pessina was right when he said the high press and runs from midfield are trademarks of Gian Piero Gasperini’s football, and they even borrowed the decoy wall technique against Wales, which resulted in Bernardeschi smacking one against the upright. The 4-3-3 formation adopted by Mancini owes a lot to Roberto De Zerbi’s Sassuolo, with its swarming runs out wide and everyone contributing to the attacking moves created by those gaps as the opposition defence is spread thin. They might not be the most successful teams in Serie A, but they are certainly influential and show what can be achieved with this energetic approach.

The most promising thing about this Italy side is the feeling there’s so much more to come. The Azzurri traditionally start badly in major tournaments and warm up as time goes on, and they really do seem to be going up through the gears right now. If this is just the beginning, imagine when Italy have that midfield engine revving. Bring on Wembley.

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