The Italian national football team plays against Ukraine in the European Championship

Squadra Azzurra is in the process of shedding its skin. You can see the beginnings of a new culture of play and resistance under the leadership of Luciano Spalletti, but there are also recurrences of fear of football. Today, Monday, we are talking about taking part in the European Championships.

The coach of the Italian national team, Luciano Spalletti, faces a decisive match in the qualifications for the European Championship.

Riccardo Antimiani / EPA

For at least one weekend, Italy breathed a sigh of relief. There was joy again around Squadra Azzurra. The blue shirts were purchased on Friday in front of the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. The one with number 14 was particularly popular. Federico Chiesa impressed Tifosi in the penultimate European Championship qualifier against North Macedonia: he scored two goals for an important 5-2 result and impressed with his dribbling and feints along the chalk line on the left side. “He is currently our only special person, our Jannik Sinner,” said coach Luciano Spalletti, referring to the professional tennis player Sinner, who delighted the whole country with his entry into the final of the ATP Finals.

Chiesa was honored by the comparison. The fact that Italy’s current best professional footballer is proud to be mentioned in the same breath as a non-footballer also shows the loss of importance of calcium.

“With his technique and physique, Federico creates the free spaces that are so important for us,” Spalletti praised his poster boy. It demands this blend of technical excellence and duel endurance from all players. For Chiesa, who was injured for a long time, some willpower was added. Shortly after playmaker Jorginho unfortunately missed a penalty, Chiesa made it 2-0 with a great individual performance. In this way, he wiped away the fear of failure that had arisen. Jorginho, who missed his fourth straight penalty for the national team – two against Switzerland in the World Cup qualifiers and one in the European Championship final at Wembley – gave his teammate a particularly warm hug. He was aware that the match could have been turned upside down at this point.

There were several such moments in this decisive, penultimate qualifying match. After leading 3-0 at halftime, Italy lost 3-2. There was a risk of a scenario like the one in March 2022 in Palermo, when a Macedonian goal blocked Italy’s path to the World Cup in Qatar. There was a paralyzing silence. Spalletti walked around the room with his head down. “At the current level, a slight loss of concentration could mean we pay dearly,” he later commented on this phase.

No, Italy doesn’t shine. This is just kilometers away from the magical football that Spalletti’s SSC Napoli team celebrated in the last championship season. Squadra Azzurra doesn’t even have the quality of AS Roma, which Spalletti once played at the Olimpico. “We didn’t win any titles then. “But we played a calcio that was constructive and based on technical finesse,” Spalletti said, looking back.

He was touched and said that during his stay at Zenit St. St. Petersburg, Russian fans with shining eyes told him about the Roma style: “It’s also a victory when the quality of your work is appreciated on the other side of the world.” The owner of the estate from Tuscany was a farmer who enjoyed the growth of vines and the long gallop of his own horses.

«We are the new Italy. We want to dominate »

Spalletti now also wants to set an example not only as a coach, but also as an incorrigible football romantic and esthete. That’s why he asks his players to take advantage of technical subtleties and a passing game that is not sterile, but rather opens up space. «We are the new Italy. We want to dominate,” summed up exemplary student Chiesa. In Spalletti’s late phase as coach, it is also necessary to have the necessary fortitude to be able to steer the game in the right direction.

That’s why he praised the entire second half: “I liked the reaction after North Macedonia’s second goal. We got up. It was great Italy.”

Well, it was big Italy against a small opponent, 66th in the world rankings. At least Gazzetta dello Sport saw the gateway to Europe again for the 2020 European champions. To be there and defend the title, we need at least a draw with Ukraine on Monday.

Fear of making another mistake

Warning voices are being raised again before this match. “Never tell the players that a draw is enough, because if they play for a draw, they regularly lose,” worried former national team coach Arrigo Sacchi in Gazzetta dello Sport. This makes this selection fundamentally different from previous editions of Squadra Azzurra. They were known and infamous for being able to play for minimum scores because they knew how to dictate the rhythm of the match. The motto was that a good horse only jumps as high as it has to. The current generation does not have this class and maximum focus. Spalletti, a horse lover, must teach his people to jump higher and more beautifully. His recipe: more effort in pressing and controlling the game, which translates into more scoring opportunities. And a more beautiful game, so that moments of aura can overshadow even bad results.

However, no one dreams that more attractive football can bring great results. The fear of failure is too deep. The dark cloud surrounding the Turin prosecutor’s investigation into gambling continues to hang over the Squadra Azzurra. Last week, Alessandro Florenzi, the fourth international player, was interviewed. There were no internal consequences or preventive approaches, as the head of the delegation, Gianluigi Buffon, admitted. “Everyone is responsible for themselves,” said the former goalkeeper. So if you make mistakes it’s your fault, but otherwise you should put collective action first? There are many contradictions in the new Squadra Azzurra.

European Championship Qualifications, Group C. Matches on Monday. Ukraine – Italy. North Macedonia – England.
Classification: 1. England July 19 (21:3). 2. Italy July 13 (16:9). 3. Ukraine July 13 (11:8). 4. North Macedonia 7/7 (9:19). 5. Malta 8/0 (2:20).

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