Boos for Donnarumma, end of a journey and more: what we learned from Italy-Spain

by | Oct 7, 2021 11:53

Italy’s world-record unbeaten run finally ended as they lost 2-1 to Spain at San Siro in the UEFA Nations League semi-final on Wednesday evening. Carlo Garganese of The Italian Football Podcast looks at five lessons to take from the game.

1. The Azzurri made us proud

We should be proud of the Azzurri. All good things must come to an end and a 10-man Italy shouldn’t beat themselves up too much about losing to Spain. Instead, they can be proud of this incredible journey over the past three years. A journey that no one could possibly have believed was possible when the Azzurri failed to even qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

Roberto Mancini masterminded a world record 37-game unbeaten run, which included the glory of winning Euro 2020. The last time Italy had lost a game before Wednesday night was on September 10, 2018 when they were defeated 1-0 by Portugal in another UEFA Nations League clash. One loss against a superb Spain team will not erase the past three years, nor will it erase what will be a very promising future for Italy. Indeed, a defeat will probably do Italy and Mancini good. They can learn from their mistakes and become even better. It is also better to lose now than next month when they need to ensure they clinch automatic qualification for the World Cup.

2. Luis Enrique has Mancini’s number

Despite eliminating Spain on penalties in the UEFA Euro 2020 semi-final at Wembley, there is no doubt that Roberto Mancini lost the tactical battle to Luis Enrique that day. The Spain boss surprised Mancini with a strikerless system and sophisticated positional play and high press that caused Italy all kinds of problems. Once again on Wednesday, Luis Enrique made some tactical switches which Italy took at least half an hour to get to grips with. Spain kept pulling an extra man out wide, which dragged Giovanni Di Lorenzo out of position and created a huge space in Italy’s right-hand channel.

This is where Spain created their first goal from. Once Leonardo Bonucci was harshly sent off just before half-time, the match effectively ended as a tactical contest. But the Azzurri showed heart in the second half with 10 men to at least grab a consolation through substitute Lorenzo Pellegrini. That mental strength can take Italy a long way but Mancini must find a way to deal with Spain tactically if they are to meet again at the World Cup.

3. Bernardeschi is not a No. 9

Throughout Italy’s three-year run, there was one glaring weakness that has never been resolved. The No.9 conundrum. Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti have been rotated during most of Mancini’s reign, but neither has shown themselves to be up to the level required. The Azzurri won Euro 2020 despite Immobile and Belotti, not because of them.

The Azzurri have just over a year to find themselves a suitable No. 9 for the 2022 World Cup. What is for certain is that Federico Bernardeschi is not the answer. Aside from one shot that Unai Simon pushed onto the post, Bernardeschi offered nothing. Considering he has scored two goals in three years for Juventus, it’s safe to say he shouldn’t be Italy’s striker. Mancini is better experimenting now with Moise Kean, who at least added drive and aggression in the second half, or Giacomo Raspadori. Or perhaps, one of the other promising young strikers will develop, such as Gianluca Scamacca, Lorenzo Lucca, Pietro Pellegri and Lorenzo Colombo.

Boos for Donnarumma cause controversy in Italy

4. What was the point of booing Donnarumma?

The build-up to the game was dominated by talk over what the reception would be at San Siro towards goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma. The 22-year-old, of course, left Milan this summer in hugely controversial circumstances in order to join PSG on a Bosman transfer. There were some insulting banners erected around the city while former Milan manager Fabio Capello branded Donnarumma “ungrateful to Milan after all the club did for him and his family when he was a kid.”

And during the game itself, Donnarumma was booed and jeered with every touch of the ball. It appeared to get to the goalkeeper who fumbled a simple shot onto the post shortly after Spain took the lead. While it is understandable that Milan fans are angry, this behaviour only penalised Italy. Instead of having the home crowd cheering them on to victory, the energy of the supporters created a negative vibe that helped Spain instead.

5. Bastoni still needs to mature

There is no doubt that Alessandro Bastoni is Italy’s best young defensive talent and that he has a very promising career in front of him. His ability to break the press and deliver a pin-point long pass or cross is almost unequalled in his age group around Europe. But the match against Spain shows that he is far from the finished article and still needs to mature. He was guilty of slack marking on Ferran Torres for Spain’s opener, while he was naïve in being caught in possession trying to bring the ball out of defence.

Playing in a back three for Inter each week means he needs more practice in a four, and experiences like these against Spain will certainly do him good. Mancini will also need to decide whether having two playmaking centre backs in the same team in Bastoni and Leonardo Bonucci provides Italy with the right balance. Both lacked defensive discipline versus Spain, with Bonucci sent off before halftime for an admittedly very harsh red card.



  1. Rosario

    4. Bernanrdeschi is NOT worthy of the national team. Never has and never will be.

  2. Niks

    Italy needs a good Striker , LB …Tonali , Zanniolo can make a big difference going forward and i hope kean also matures fast. In the World Cup , Italy may play 3 very imp knockout matches (QF,SF,Final) or at least 2 of them like 2006. Mancini needs to up his tactical skills against SPAIN , even France would be an issue. Apart from they i see only Brazil (if they play to their full potential) troubling ITALY from South America. GERMANY is another one that is building up nicely. But again like i said you can only meet 3 big teams or 2 at max if u top the group.

  3. Sten

    Pellegrini needs to start. Best Italian player right now.


    I do not like too much trying to be a manager but we definitely need a forward and Ciro and Andrea are forwards. Kean definitely should be called up but the youngsters do need to step up a gear or two like Scamacca, Colombo, Lucca and Pelegri. They need to want it as well. We are on the right path and for now, lets try to qualify and then plenty of friendlies to use these young lads. I trust Mancio totally and yes he does need to look at Belgium, Germany, France, Spain, Brazil and Argentina to find out how to beat these. Oops I forgot to mention the best team on the Planet England who no doubt will start to think they are definitely going to win the World Cup 2022 and have conveniently forgotten how many times they did not go to the World Cup but keep mentioning the 2018 when we didn’t after 60 years!

  5. Sammy

    What garbage supporters of Milan, the Italian FA should say they will stop playing games in Milan. The put their miserably club above their country. During a international semi final they are taunting and booing their own national team, if they can not support the team because Donnrumma then why buy tickets to watch the game stay home watch it on TV, morons Fabio Capello is another moron, what is he 80,why doesn’t he retire already. They act like bought a slave. If Dommrumma was happy at Milan or thought they treated him well he would stayed, not like he is making that much more money at PSG. He had a contract it expired, they should be no problem if he wanted to move to another club. If he wasn’t playing to their satisfaction, they would have no problem ditching him , they didn’t keep him around out of charity.

    These ultra fan in Italy are horrible, they don’t have these kind of ultra fans in England or Spain. And both those countries pack their stadiums for games, even before the pandemic so many empty seats and barely packed stadiums in Italian games because ultra fans ruin the live experience. In England the fans are much closer to field which makes the experience better in Italy because ultra losers that impossible for many clubs.

    Don’t understand why Varritti , Jorginho and barella get dominated by Spanish teenagers in midfield, last they said it was Pedro and other Germany league player, both didn’t play this time, now it was a 17 year kid ??? Obviously Mancini learned nothing from playing at Euro’s while Spanish coach did, made sure to use the wings to go down Italy’s weaker right side were they conceded most of their goals.
    Second time Mancini was out maneuvered by the Spanish coach.

    And this is how Italian fans treat a national team that just won the them the Euro’s after 50 years of a drought I didn’t think they deserve a winning team. They put their foreign owned mid table club above the country disgusting.

  6. Basta Poco

    Couldn’t let this ago @Sammy said “These ultra fan in Italy are horrible, they don’t have these kind of ultra fans in England or Spain”. Then who was issuing death threats to Alvaro Morata during the Euros after the game in Seville!? Was it Spanish non-ultras, foreigners, interstellar aliens? Don’t be absurd, there are these types of fans everywhere!

    “They put their foreign owned mid table club…” First part is right, second part is off. They’re currently sitting in 2nd place and finished in the top 6 since 2016…where’s the math to show that’s mid-table?

  7. Sammy

    You talking about some loons posting on the social media out country 45 million, not fans the are linked to a club and are at most games or travel with the club at away games. Spain played their games in Seville he wasn’t getting taunted or booed besides every time he touched the ball like GiGi.

    Where has Milan standing been for the last decade?? You take into account a aggregate not just one year or two.

  8. Feroli

    Ultras do have a parochial view of football that is totally not keeping in step with how modern football works. If an Ultra who is employed as an ‘idraulico’, for example, gets offered another opportunity at another employer than he takes it – and for more money. Even if he had worked at his current employer for 10 years or whatever. Don’t expect footballers to be any different – especially 22 year old footballers. And remember most of all – Donnarumma saved Europe from enduring England win the euros. Imagine – it was 1 kick away from the endless, boring, nauseous ‘it’s coming home, it’s coming . . . . . ‘ Donnarumma saved us all from that – and another 50 years of that! He should be applauded every time he takes the field!

  9. MIchael

    @Sammy “Where has Milan standing been for the last decade?? You take into account a aggregate not just one year or two.” – Why decade specifically, why not 2 or 3 decades? The last decade we’ve effectively been a mid table team for at least half of it, due to the collapse of the Berlusconi era and all the tumult that followed. But we’re coming out of that, as evidenced by last season and this season (so far).

    “foreign owned […] club” – what’s the relevance of that? Owners come and go, the club remains.

  10. Kris

    Football in Italy is not football, it is Calcio. It is bigger than pasta and the Pope – combined. What did Donna and his entourage expect? How can anybody be pissed that ACM fans are pissed?

    Donna toke a choice and this is the consequence. He could and should have ensured that the club he claims to love got some transfer money when there are in dire need. He didn’t. He was more concerned about ensuring his AGENT money.

    Never forget, never forgive.

  11. House Party

    Agree with all 5 points. I know it’s not the Italian way anymore but next time they should stifle Spain back more. And with more conviction. If Tonali keep’s progressing as he is, then put him on Busquets like they did with their kid on Verratti. Jorginho + Verratti look average when they play Spain, because of tactics, when in truth there’s not that much difference in quality. Sick of hearing Spain’s fans + Busquets’ monosyllabic “we keep the ball, we are the best” no matter what the result. He’s a great player but he come’s across as a bit arrogant. Even his looks make him appear stuck-up + bulbous! Tonali, Verratti, Pellegrini, Bonucci + Jorgingo are all fantastic passers. But Italy can appear intimidated or like they have an inferiority complex when playing Spain! Though it’s clear that Spain fear Italy’s pace too. That’s the reason for Luis Enrique’s stifling methods + just as he is leaving some big names out for the kids, Mancio probably needs to do the same + give the likes of Zaniolo, Tonali, Vignato, Ricci + the other kids a chance, like he was doing before Italy won the Euro’s, so that the team doesn’t stagnate + so that they can gain as much experience as possible before the next big comp.

  12. Carlo

    How is no one talking about that awful Insigne miss. His underperforming has been a major issue for Italy as well along with Immobile and Belotti. I don’t understand how Mancini also always overlooks Politano. Moving forward in the future with everyone being healthy I would love to see these players playing together in the 4-3-3 formation. Donnarumma; Calabria/Lazzari, Bonucci, Chiellini, Spinazzola/Dimarco; Barella, Pellegrini, Sensi/Veratti/Castrovilli; Zaniolo/Politano, Raspadori, Chiesa. Pellegrini would offer a lot more than Jorginho, he loses the ball too often and it ineffective for Italy. Changes need to be made, you cant always rely on the same players. I would even take Giovinco who doesn’t have a team yet over Insigne.

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