Italy were held to a 1-1 draw by Bulgaria and Richard Hall explains what went wrong for the Azzurri in their first game as European champions.
The Italian headlines said it all after the Azzurri drew with Bulgaria in Florence. “Stronger guys,” wrote Gazzetta Dello Sport, “Too nice,” claimed Corriere Dello Sport and Tuttosport pointed out that Federico Chiesa was not enough. Roberto Mancini was also critical of the display, as the European Champions seemed lacklustre and showed none of the ‘Grinta’ that exhibited in the summer tournament. They will have to see this as a blip as they face second-placed Switzerland in Basel on Sunday, they cannot lapse again.
The flags were out in Florence to welcome the European Champions, whilst the Bulgarians arrived with few fans and fewer hopes, but they soon proved to be challenging for the Azzurri. The game descended into a turgid mix of misplaced passes, individual errors and the home side being anything rather than clinical. Lorenzo Insigne and Nicolo Barella were only two that missed guilt-edged chances and Mancini bemoaned this after the game. “We should have been more clinical. We created many opportunities. It was one of those games where we could have played for 30 more minutes without scoring.”
Bulgaria were so resolute because they were down to their goalkeeper, Georgi Georgiev, who repelled Insigne, Ciro Immobile, and Leonardo Bonucci. The Juventus centre-back even took time at the end of the game to praise the keeper, saying he made good saves, although Italy showed the right spirit.
Georgiev was having the time of his life because, at 32 years of age, he was only making his seventh appearance for the national team. He did not even make his debut until 2019, but he is now making up for the lost time. He had struggled to be looked at for the national team because the goalkeeper before him, Nikolay Mihaylov, had seemed impossible to remove. Nikolay is the son of the former Reading custodian Borislav Mihaylov, the President of the Bulgarian FA until he resigned in 2019.
However, Italy could not blame it all on Georgiev, as they had missed chances and made defensive errors, notably the one that led to the goal. Alessandro Florenzi, who had not been impressive, slipped and allowed Ascoli striker Atanas Iliev to bustle past Francesco Acerbi and finish with distinction. Mancini said, “We conceded a random goal, perhaps we should have committed a foul to stop the attack.” Even so, he went on to say that it was the clinical finishing they lacked and had to address.
Perhaps a lot of the pressure lies on the head of Immobile, who, whilst is in blistering form for Lazio, continues to struggle with the Azzurri. Along with Insigne, Marco Verratti, Acerbi and Florenzi, he took the brunt of the newspapers anger this morning as they threw marks of 5 and sometimes a generous 5.5 at them. It felt that the Euros were a million miles away, but Italy have quality and Chiesa.
Enrico’s son is by far becoming one of the hottest properties in Europe. Considering the national team drew against the opposition they should have beaten and Juventus have started the season terribly, he has attracted much praise. His professionalism, confidence, speed and directness have seen the opposition look terrified as his impact becomes greater day by day.
The voices in the Italian camp are now as in unison as they are for the national anthem and the message is clear. Italy must win in Basel. They can be no more lethargy, no more mistakes and much more fight. The Swiss will be up for the challenge, willing to avenge the 3-0 defeat in the Euros. Italy indeed have all the ammunition in their arsenal to overcome the Swiss and they will be aware of what the nation expects. The Azzurri are still unbeaten in 35 games and have levelled with the record of Brazil and Spain, they will now want to go and beat it.