Italy showed signs of progress against England securing a deserved 1-0 at San Siro, and Giancarlo Rinaldi analyses Roberto Mancini’s new tactical adjustments, which we may see again in the future.
Nothing will ever take away the pain, but it can always be eased a little. For those still struggling to digest Italy’s failure to reach the World Cup, a win over England went down like the smoothest after-dinner amaro. Winning their Nations League group after some miserable moments would surely be a shot of espresso to the Azzurri’s crippled confidence.
Only time will tell if the win courtesy of a curling Giacomo Raspadori strike – with echoes of Alex Del Piero – was a sticking plaster or a more lasting remedy. For now, though, Roberto Mancini can wallow in the warmth of beating one of the would-be favourites to lift the trophy in Qatar later this year. On this evidence, at least, it is his English counterpart who should be having more sleepless nights.
Mancio moved his team seamlessly to a 3-5-2 formation, giving solidity to his defence while allowing Inter‘s Federico Di Marco to gallop forward. Old heads like Leonardo Bonucci, Rafael Toloi, Francesco Acerbi and Giovanni Di Lorenzo formed a rugged wall in front of Gigio Donnarumma. It gave the players the platform to take the game to their opponents consistently and more and more insistently until they grabbed the lead midway through the second half.
This was a slow-cooker victory with Nicolò Barella, Jorginho and Bryan Cristante providing a midfield which had more quantity than quality behind a well-balanced front two of Raspadori and Gianluca Scamacca. They turned up the heat as the game progressed, with Wilfried Gnonto and Tommaso Pobega joining the fray just before grabbing their beautiful goal. England huffed and puffed after going behind, but there were only a couple of saves of note for Donnarumma to make.
What will have pleased Italy fans most was how this makeshift side – missing many of its top players – was able to take on what should have been one of the continent’s top teams and not look out of its depth. There are at least some signs of hope if the Azzurri can reintegrate their stars like Marco Verratti and Federico Chiesa alongside some new faces. That’s all anyone could have asked for after such a disappointing failure to reach a major tournament.
This was an important step in the right direction after recent slip-ups, but nobody should be cracking open the celebratory spumante just yet. There were opportunities to kill the game off with a clinical counter-attack after taking the lead, which were spurned through inexperience or poor decision-making. At a top tournament, those are errors which could end up being a source of regret.
Nonetheless, there were reasons to smile at San Siro on Friday night with the first Italy win in the old stadium for a decade. Italy produced some decent football and showed resilience in defence and the character and qualities their coach called for. If they can keep on this path, surely the bitter pill of failed qualification will be one which can stay in the medicine cabinet in future.
England fans, undoubtedly, will be the ones more alarmed by what they saw unfold at the Stadio Meazza with yet another drab display in their build-up to the World Cup. Their performance was as grey as a misty Milanese morning with little sign of any sunshine to lift the gloom. If they take this attitude on their travels in November, the only thing that will be coming home is Southgate’s squad before the competition reaches its later stages.
Still, Italy will have to look with envy as the Three Lions are at least involved in the tournament while Bonucci and company are not. But it has to be time to leave that regret behind and look to the future and there would be no better way than by beating Hungary to win their Nations League group. It might not be an earth-shattering achievement but, in a section involving England and Germany, it would represent a much-needed tonic.
This win was chicken soup for Calcio’s soul and they will hope for a few more bowlfuls in the weeks and months to come. Another triumph in Budapest would be a further step on the road to recovery. Let’s keep a lid on the pasta pot of celebrations for now, though, and hope for a bigger serving of success when qualification for Euro 2024 rolls around.