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The RISE and FALL of the Italian National Team

4 minute read Published July 1, 2024

In 2020, the Italian national team won the Euros. The team went through the group without allowing a single goal, while scoring seven. Both defence and attack were dialled in. After beating Spain on penalties in the semi final, they’d once again take the game to penalties in the final. 

After the Euros, they’d play three more matches before finally losing, to Spain. Mancini and the Italian team were undefeated for 37 games in a row. A world record. The run started in October 2018 and ended almost exactly three years later, on the sixth of October, 2021.

Oh, how things have changed since then. From a team that was, literally, unbeatable, to a team that failed to qualify for the Qatar World Cup. After failing to qualify, the coach that brought them both the European Championship and the record breaking streak, Roberto Mancini, resigned. A decision that came as a surprise to many. Because, even though he’d had a rough patch, Italy were happy to continue with him.

Luciano Spaletti was brought in to replace him. Spaletti had just won Napolis first title in 33 years and had requested to leave the club to recharge. But when the chance to manage his national team came, he took it.

Luciano Spalletti. Photo: Shutterstock.

In the qualifiers to the Euro’s, Italy played decently. They lost twice to England, who went on to win the group. They drew both North Macedonia and Ukraine once. Ukraine and Italy would end the group on equal points but Italy took the automatic qualification spot on goal difference. Ukraine eventually qualified as one of the best third placed teams.

And now we’ve seen them get knocked out. They were absolutely dominated by Switzerland in the round of 16. And if it wasn’t for Zaccagni scoring with the last kick of the group stage, they wouldn’t even have made it out of the group. So what’s happened, how could the team have declined so quickly?

Generational Shift

First of all, they had a bit of a generational shift. The biggest part of it, of course, is that both Chiellini and Bonucci played their last games. The centre back pairing was one of the most used in the world at the time as they played together for years at Juventus as well as in the national team.

Chiellini the 2012 Euros final against Spain. Photo: Ilya Khokhlov

Bastoni and Calafiori, the new centre back pairing, may be the Italian players that performed the best. They don’t, however, have that decade of experience playing together and almost two decades of professional football. They may very well get there though, at least in the national team.

Up front Chiesa played with Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne. National team Immobile was crazy good and together with Insigne they created a very dynamic attack. Chiesa is the only one of the three that was selected for the national team this tournament.

The attacking options for Italy are lacking a bit. Scamacca played for Atalanta who won the Europa League and placed fourth in the league. However, he only scored twelve goals during the season, didn’t really dazzle, and wasn’t a nailed on starter. Players like Retegui and Zaccagni aren’t very well known.

While Jorginho is still with the national team, he was not a starter this year. Together with Veratti, who now plays in Qatar and wasn’t selected, and Barella they had very complementary strengths. Fagioli featured in Jorginhos regista role and did a decent job but Spaletti couldn’t really settle on a centre mid three that worked well.

Lack of Star Quality

Italian teams were so good in the European competitions this year, at least outside the Champions League. Fiorentina got to the final in the Europa Conference league and Atalanta won the Europa League. But there were zero players from Fiorentina and only one player from Atalanta selected for the Euros. This is despite the fact that all but three players (Donnarumma, Vicario and Jorginho) selected, play in Italy. 

Atalanta has a very international squad, especially by Italian standards and there’s not a lot of players eligible from them. Fiorentina on the other hand has a largely Italian squad, but none of those was deemed good enough.

Lastly, compared to 2020, there are only a handful of stars in the squad and very few with international experience. There’s not really a leader like Chiellini in the team. Someone who can rally the troops, someone with charisma and authority. 

It’s a reasonably young squad. The sixth youngest in the competition. Maybe given a few years they’ll develop into a winning squad again.

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