From Euro 2020 glory to World Cup fiasco: what happened to Italy?

by | Nov 16, 2021 15:21

Italy failed to seal direct qualification for the World Cup four months after winning the Euros and Lorenzo Bettoni analyses what has gone wrong for the Azzurri since the Wembley Final.

When Italy beat England this past July, claiming the second European Championship in their history, nobody would expect them to miss out on a straight World Cup qualification only a few months later.

Giampiero Ventura’s shadow seemed to have vanished from Coverciano with Italy not just playing an attacking brand of football but also matching eye-catching performances with victories.

During the Euros, they proved all their doubters wrong. Those who thought their playing style was only suitable to beat the so-called ‘smaller teams’ had to think again. Roberto Mancini’s side beat Belgium, Spain and England during the Euros and trashed Switzerland 3-0. The Swiss are not an elite team, but they are the same ones who would eliminate France from UEFA Euro 2020 and win the World Cup qualification group ahead of the Azzurri.

For Italy, what happened between the Euros and last night’s match against Northern Ireland is a mix of bad luck, piled-up injuries and, it has to be said, a more relaxed approach.

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La Nazionale weren’t able to beat the Swiss in two games during the World Cup qualification, drawing 0-0 in Basel and 1-1 in Rome. Both times Jorginho missed a penalty kick and many see that as the only reason the Azzurri haven’t yet booked their ticket for the World Cup. It’s one of the reasons, but not the only one.

Jorginho wasn’t the only one to make mistakes in front of the goal. You may remember Federico Chiesa against Bulgaria, when the Azzurri were held to 1-1 draw in Florence in their first game after the Euros, or Ciro Immobile and Domenico Berardi against Switzerland in Basel.

There’s a long list of missed opportunities Italy are regretting. There are so many that, as Mancini said, the Azzurri could have qualified for the World Cup with two games to spare. It didn’t happen and Italy are now dealing with a huge problem.

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When it comes to bad luck, it’s impossible not to mention injuries. The Azzurri prepared their last two matches against Northern Ireland and Switzerland without Marco Verratti, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Nicolò Zaniolo and Giorgio Chiellini.

Pellegrini and Zaniolo were not part of the Euro squad, but, Pellegrini is perhaps the best Italian midfielder in 2021-22 with eight goals and three assists in 16 appearances for Roma.

Alessandro Bastoni and Davide Calabria also pulled out of the Azzurri squad after the game with Switzerland last week, while Leonardo Spinazzola is still on the treatment table after the Achilles injury suffered against Belgium over the summer.

Hopefully, all of them will be back for the play-offs in March, but at that point, the Azzurri won’t have much room for mistake.

Italy players and Mancini deserve unlimited credit after what they achieved over the summer, but it can’t be denied that something has changed since.

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Clearly, most Italian players are not as fit as they were over the summer and this can’t be entirely their fault. However, their attitude and their approach seem to have changed.

Leonardo Bonucci acknowledged that during his post-match interview last night: “We need to recharge the batteries, both physical and mental, rediscovering the determination and joy in our football that we had at the Euros,” he said.

“We played football with the joy of doing it and not the pressure of having to prove something. Perhaps becoming Champions of Europe has unconsciously changed something.”

Four years after that devastating night at San Siro against Sweden, Italy are once again forced to go through the play-offs to book their place for the World Cup.

The problem is, they are much more challenging than they were back in 2017. This time, only three of the 12 countries involved will qualify. This means that one between Cristiano Ronaldo, Robert Lewandowski or Zlatan Ibrahimovic will watch Qatar 2022 from their sofa if Italy qualify. That’s how challenging the new play-off formula is. But if Italy got to this point, they have themselves to blame, more than bad luck.


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  1. kruizer

    Lorenzo Pellegrini, Immobile coming back would help, but the biggest would be Spinazzola. Since his injury, Azzurri have lost their edge. More is expected from Chiesa, and Insigne is also way too inconsistent and needs to do better. Also need to see people from U21 and some others make the step up, Lorenzo Lucca, Nicolo Rovella and Frattesi should be pushing the lineup. Try a different approach with one tall striker, Lucca or Scamacca.

  2. Bongomancio

    Love Mancio’s Azzurri like we all do and hard to be critical but it does feel the tide turned the moment Spina pulled up. Haven’t seen that brilliant tiki-talia since. Cannot clearly just be about Spinna but missing anything resembling an attacking full back clearly hurts this team. I can understand why Di Lorenzo plays to cover with his pace but something has to give. There is more to it of course as Emerson was first choice for most of Mancio’s tenure leading up to the Euros. Feels like the Spain semi sowed some seeds of doubt into this team. Nobody really expected Italy to be outplayed to that extent, seemed implausible given how well the performance vs Belgium went. If we are honest, the performance vs. England had more in common with last night than any of the earlier games in the Euros. Everything seems slow and the worst manifestation last night was resorting to one ploy of Bonucci over the top. It’s a great surprise weapon but just showed how devoid of energy, confidence, and ideas the team was. Jorginho was invisible and probably should not have started, he was clearly hurting. Fixing this will be hard but I still of course believe. Best thing about this all is that the playoffs are not till March. Had they been next week this Italy could have been pummelled by anyone decent.

  3. Jarod KNowles

    This is unacceptable.
    There are players on there that should be replaced.
    But we also need to tweak the technique, are are a few key observations that make a big difference:
    1) Non canon balls from midfield, that is a waste and they never go in, even top players miss doing that;
    2) To avoid kick balls wide or over the bar try to put a little less aggression on the ball;
    3) Flick ball over a wall not at it! THIS IS URGENT! As the playoffs we will surely run into teams parking the bus. Kicking the ball really hard at 2 defenders is a waste of time, you flick the ball over the 2 defenders allowing a Suarez type player to sneak behind them and there you go have a shot on goal;
    4) I DON’T EVER WANT TO SEE ANY AZZURRI PLAYER EVER AGAIN KICK THE BALL AT THE KEEPER, KICK IT AWAY FROM THE KEEPER, THIS IS NOT BASEBALL YOU ARE NOT THE PITCHER & THE KEEPER IS NOT THE CATCHER, HE IS THE ENEMY!!! Pretend the keeper is front of a bus and the bus is the net. Say the keep is at window #5, well you kick the ball at either window #2 or # 7 not at the keeper!!!
    5) Etc I am sure we the fans will see something else

    Here are the Italy vs NI stats:
    Poss 29 71
    shots on goal 4 12
    Passes 182 608

    what’s the problem lads? You outplayed NI everybody else yet are now in the playoffs?
    You don’t have the answer, well we do read the comments and follow the tips

  4. ricky

    Complacency is what happened and not changing certain players.

  5. Flora

    Can’t agree more. Often wonder maybe I’m not man or a player so I couldn’t tell why I was frustrated at watching them. In the WC qualifiers, Barlella, Berardi were kicking at the keeper, Insigne was too wide and Chiesa was too high. They are beloved by us all but I still can’t understand. Is it customary that coach won’t change first penalty kicker even the player kept making terrible mistakes?

  6. Uncle Z

    As Italians we like the chaos and the drama. In this case we had every chance to defeat NI and Bulgaria but could not even find the net. We must enjoy putting ourselves in the dumpster, setting it on fire and doing so at the last minute. Always with playoffs which we seem to do more often when it comes to the world cup.

  7. walha

    Chiesa, Berrardi and Insigne was Italy’s attack but the other attakers on italy’s bench was weak:
    Bernadeschi, Raspadori, Belotti, Scamacca. While Zaniolo and Pellegrini was onavailable Mancini could have opted for
    El Sharaawy, Politano on the bench. If italy wants to qualify for the WC next year. Mancini should know what to do

  8. Geedup

    Interesting when listing the key players that were out injured, Ciro Immobile was omitted. After being vilified for not being a clinical goal scorer for Italy, the last two games show how much his other qualities were sorely missed. When you play against teams who sit deep like NI and the Swiss did, a player like Immobile who can hold up the ball, draw defenders and opens up space for other players to create chances and score is necessary, especially when you’re a team like Italy who don’t have players that create loads of chances for their forwards. For Chiesa’s goal against Bulgaria, watch Immobile in the build-up. He effectively kept 2 defenders occupied in the buildup and in the end, he had drawn away 4 defenders creating the space for Chiesa to take the shot and score. It was the same for the first goals against Belgium and Spain at the Euros. Once you score the first goal, the other team is forced to push forward to equalise, which now opens up more spaces for the team to exploit, provided the defence are solid and don’t concede. But Italy did concede against Bulgaria so who were able to sit deep again. People completely overlook these qualities, which in many ways is better than simply having a clinical finisher that offers nothing else in a team like the Azzurri with little creativity or ability to maintain long periods of possession. The Swiss game in Rome would have definitely been won had Immobile been playing. Just being in his home stadium alone would have made the world of difference. Immobile is absolutely necessary for the playoffs. These games are too important to be testing untried CFs and hoping they are an instant success.

  9. joe del monte

    How would you like to be England? All of the tournaments they have been in and 1 rusty cup. They would switch places with Italy in a second. I am 57 and I have seen Italy win 2 world cups and 1 Euro. Not to mention the many finals that they have been in. Yes I am disappointed but they will turn it around.

  10. Feroli

    I agree with @Geedup. Immobile does hold the ball up and create space for others. Belotti also did the same at the Euros and makes a good sub – if Italy are winning. Italy now have to win two games to get to the WC and it is not going to be easy. I would play Immobile and let him run at defenders and create space for others to run into. He may not score but he does cause a bit of confusion for the opposition defence.

  11. meazza

    Our wingers are weak without Spinna and the role Florenz had been playing (I don’t believe Florenzi is a solution any longer). I’d like to see Darmian get a recall as he performs at both ends pretty consistently, Dimarco would be a better Spinna sub than Emerson. Even Zappacosta has advanced the attack for Atalanta this season in a way that DiLorenzo doesn’t. The wingers are important for Mancini’s style and system and enable players like Insigne to be more effective. Bernadeschi is not a solution. The fact is we do not have a strong #9 and need to device an attack that does not ignore this fact. Just rotating Immobile, Beloitti, or Raspadori makes no difference when none of them have the clinical finishing and dynamism required at this level. Mancini needs to address this systematically and hasn’t. Winning the Euros was because we could play not to lose. This is no longer the case. We need to play to win. Clean sheets don’t matter. Out scoring the opposition does. We can revert back to a defence first approach when we get back into a tournament format that uses extra time and PKs as deciding factors.

  12. Serieastar

    Italy is famous for playing down to their competition. Utterly laughable how they cant score against Bulgaria or N.Ireland; meanwhile every team has killer instinct. Even if italy scored 2 goals; they will stop playing. This mentality has to change not to mention the rules in Serie A allowing so many foreigners allowed to take up roster spots.

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