Would Italy have won the Euros in 2020?

by | Jul 19, 2021 18:04

Now that the Azzurri fans have had time to bask in the glory of another major competition triumph, David Ferrini plays devil’s advocate asking if Italy would have won the Euros if the tournament went ahead as planned in 2020.

Roberto Mancini’s squad defeated England via a penalty shootout to clinch their second European title, extending their unbeaten streak to 34 matches. This impressive run of results right here, which began in 2018, well before lockdown restrictions were imposed, was at 14 by June of 2020, the month that the UEFA Euros was originally meant to be contested.

Can you imagine winning all seven tournament matches without Marco Verratti, Leonardo Spinazzola, Manuel Locatelli and captain Giorgio Chiellini? No, neither can I.

Prepare yourself, I’m about to point out about a dozen player variations, based on form and injuries, to the squad that Roberto Mancini would have named in May 2020 had the Euros not been postponed until 2021.

But firstly, let’s consider that undefeated streak and the confidence and belief it brought to the table. Up until June of 2020, the Azzurri were rarely challenged throughout the Euro qualifiers, playing Greece, Bosnia, Armenia, Finland and Lichtenstein.

Italy hadn’t competed against a tougher opponent than Poland, winning 1–0 back in October of 2018. As some England-based football pundits put it, “Italy still hadn’t played anyone.”

Sure, Mancini’s side would have been able to navigate through the group stages, but they simply didn’t have ample time to establish a reputation of being feared which is a necessary component when it comes to winning trophies.

The mister, understandably, hadn’t yet been able to field a consistent line-up. In fact, the only constants throughout EURO 2020 qualification games, all of which were played in 2019, were Gigio Donnarumma, Leonardo Bonucci, Jorginho, Nicolò Barella, Federico Bernadeschi and Ciro Immobile.

Sandro Tonali, with Brescia at the time, was the preferred alternative in midfield. There are doubts as to whether he could have contributed in the same way that Manuel Locatelli and Matteo Pessina were able to.

By June 2021, the undefeated streak was at 27, and to paraphrase Mickey in Rocky II, this “greasy fast Italian tank” looked unstoppable. Mancini’s side had won all eight games in the lead up to the tournament, scoring 25 times while not conceding, and so the fear factor was born.

Comparing form over the past two seasons, Federico Chiesa was still finding his feet until his €60m transfer to Juventus, empowering the lively forward to study superstar Cristiano Ronaldo — a gigantic step up from Fiorentina. The wide attacker let loose for the Bianconeri, scoring eight Serie A goals, four times in the Champions League and the winner in the Italian Cup Final.

Lorenzo Insigne went from a mediocre eight-goal total in 2019-20 to his career-best haul of 19 goals in 2020-21: a clear, distinguishable transition in form and leadership.

Like Manuel Locatelli and Alessandro Bastoni, Domenico Berardi did not take part in the Euro qualifiers, and was not recalled to the national team setup until October 2020. The Sassuolo wide-man ended the last campaign with 17 goals to cement his place in Mancini’s squad ahead of Matteo Politano.

With the extra Serie A season under his belt, Giovanni Di Lorenzo further elevated his status as a versatile defender by completing his second term at Napoli. It’s easy to forget that Di Lorenzo was playing in Serie B prior to the Ventura-Mancini national team handover. Without tournament postponement, Danilo D’Ambrosio and Armando Izzo were the favourites to shadow Alessandro Florenzi.

Nicolò Barella had only just completed his first season at Inter Milan. However, the tournament delay enabled the Inter midfielder to excel, helping his club to the Scudetto.

Leonardo Spinazzola was behind Emerson and Cristiano Biraghi in the pecking order for the left-back role. But the Roma star shone brightly in an underperforming and uninspiring Giallorossi team, making his inclusion obligatory. Spinazzola is now a household name throughout Europe after invaluable contributions in both attack and defence.

Alessandro Bastoni required the extra season to transcend from squad player to regular starter under Antonio Conte. His selection denied Gianluca Mancini and Alessio Romagnoli, and after stepping in to start against Wales, the young Inter defender looks to be in the mix for FIFA 2022.

Jorginho’s last twelve months catapulted Chelsea’s top League scorer into Ballon d’Or calculations after steering his team to UEFA Champions League success. The difference in form and confidence from previous seasons was substantial.

Then we need to take acknowledge injuries. Giorgio Chiellini only played four games for Juventus in 2019-20 after suffering a cruciate ligament rupture. The Livorno-born centre-back would have almost certainly missed the Euros in 2020. Marco Verratti was also unavailable after testing positive just days before the tournament was supposed to begin.

Apart from individual players improving their form at club level, Italy required the extra 12 months to gel as a squad collectively. Mancini and his Sampdoria armada were able to harness the confidence of the extended unbeaten streak and transform it into a fear factor.

Perhaps fate played out the way the Azzurri needed it to — dramatic — just like Germany 2006. Even though they had their backs to the wall in the Final after just two minutes, they believed as England showed fear by sitting deep.

This trophy was won in an odd year, during an odd period of history, clinched away from home in a cauldron full of trepidation, filled to the brim with fearful fans and a frightened opponent. After the blessing of having an extra year to build such a solid squad, Italy fans can enjoy a sixth major trophy.

Forza Azzurri 2021.

@davidferrini_

14 Comments

  1. FDC

    The Euro was postponed to 2021 for Italy only. The other teams played it in 2020.

  2. Pino

    I was going to pile on this article, but after giving it a read I generally agree that it may have been tougher in 2020, but Italy still had a decent shot in my opinion.

    That said, by their very nature knock out tournaments are wonky: because one game means survival or elimination, changing any variable, from the start time of the match, to the day, to what the players ate that morning or how they slept the night before could be the difference. Ie. Would Italy still have won Euro 2020 if after a draw in the final there was a rematch? What if the final started at 7 instead of 8 pm? What if the Spain game had started 8 minutes earlier?

    You can go on and on and on with these questions ad nauseam, but in the end all that matters is the victory, and that belongs to us.

  3. Feroli

    AS the English press noted “Italy still hadn’t played anyone.” Apart from Belgium, Spain and Switzerland that remains largely true in this Euros. All their other opponents were second or third rate.

  4. John Smith

    What would have happened in the 1994 final if the Mexican wave had been of better rhythm

  5. Carmelo Mazzeo

    And what if an asteroid hit the Earth and what if the Dinosaurs came back. Italy was by far the best team in the tournament, The Poms with everything going their way still couldn’t win it – Forza Azzurri.

  6. Token bubble

    I tend to agree, if the Euros had been played last year I do not believe that we would have won, but I am convinced that they would have still had a successful tournament. A lot happened in a year and many players kicked on and developed which proved critical to this current squad. We won this without a proven goal scorer at this level too, amazing! We’re only going to get stronger with Zaniolo, Pellegrini, Sensi looking to get back in the squad. Forza Italia

  7. Geedup

    You could also argue that they would instead win the WC because all these players who weren’t available or in contention in 2020 would be in the squad in 2022, the other players would get even better, the team would be a more cohesive unit and everyone else would still underestimate Italy (as they did in this tournament). An interesting read but a pretty pointless article.

  8. Grim affiliations

    This is madness! What will the next article be titled? “Gaby Logan blushes during interview with Alessandro Nesta”. A mediocre Italian side with a great coach.

  9. Pino

    @Grim affiliations a “mediocre” Italian side that beat every other team they played. Including yours, it seems!

  10. geedup

    @Grim affiliations Doesn’t matter what you think of them, this Italian side have etched their place in history and will always be remembered as the European champions. On the other hand, no one will remember the English side, except for their desperate media and delusional fans.

  11. token Bubble

    I gather it’s Grim affiliations with England then X-D

    If this “mediocre Italian side” can win the Euros playing the best football along the way, I cannot wait until the World Cup next year… Toddle Pip

  12. BVb

    Great article, thanks.
    However, I still think Itay would have won the Euro in 2020.

  13. Tony.F

    Italy did very well before 2020, they were passing the ball at 800 passes a game rate, now they have down to 640+ per game, in fact Italy now are not as good as Italy then. They won 11 games in a row but that run was delayed, they came back worse being 1-0 down against Bosnia, they looked disjointed as a team, they could not score. They won 9-1 against Armenia everyone forgot that. Emerson was really good until Chelsea benched him and wasted his time, Zampacosta was good, Zaniollo was brilliant, they were still good. I thought the delay had ruined their chances, like another bad luck for a team that was going to win it but was all delayed. Yes they would have won it all the same, they would have scored more. Next cup is the Nations League finals in Italy, we have to beat Spain again and maybe face Belgium and France in the final, I am sure if Italy can beat Spain again they will also win it, can they beat Switzerland twice in the Qualifiers now? Can they go 2021 unbeaten with in 41 games? Imagine that and they win the world cup too undefeated, if so this Italy side will go down as one of the greats of all time.

  14. frank b.

    The author makes some good points. Winning a tournament is all about timing – you need to hit your peak as a team in the knockout rounds. Italy did just that as the first half against Belgium was a masterclass.
    I cannot wait to see them at the World Cup next November, as I think they will be even stronger. As Cassano said, we essentially won the Euros without an in-form striker (Immobile and Bellotti were not very productive) and with our first choice wingbacks injured (Spina, Florenzi).
    With Spina in form for the World Cup and hopefully Davide Calabria starting on the right wing, we’ll be flying. Don’t forget that we did not have Zaniolo for the Euros – if he is back to his best we will have loads of options for forwards (Berardi, Chiesa, Zaniolo, Berna, Insigne) with perhaps one of them replacing Immoblie in the middle (I prefer Berardi to do this as his finishing is quite good).
    In short, with the additional experience this team will have, plus the ability to have the other options mentioned above available, we will be even stronger come Qatar in 2022.

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