If Italy’s remarkable revival seems to have passed some people by, the 3-0 domination of Turkey will have put them on the radar, writes Susy Campanale.
Former England manager Glenn Hoddle said this afternoon that Italy were ‘dark horses’ at Euro 2020, who had ‘flown under the radar.’ After the 3-0 opening victory over Turkey, the Azzurri are now very much on everyone’s radar. They already should’ve been, quite frankly, as they are unbeaten since September 2018 and this was their ninth consecutive victory, having scored 28 goals in that period and conceded zero. What more do they have to do in order to be considered contenders?
Granted, this was their first major tournament in five years after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, but they did win all 10 group games to reach Euro 2020 and are a completely different side to the one we saw under Gian Piero Ventura. This is a whole other era of Calcio and we had to hit rock bottom in order to be revived, rising up like those drummers in the opening ceremony.
This is the Nazionale we wanted to see, not just in the Ventura era, but even before that. Antonio Conte’s Euro 2016 side was gritty, but low on quality. The 2014 World Cup had probably more natural talent, but completely lacked any sense of team spirit. Roberto Mancini has seemingly managed to bring together all the best elements of Italian football and cut out the worst.
Beautiful, slick passing moves, focus on possession rather than defend and counter, the patience to break sides down and some genuine strength in depth making the most of the five-substitution rule. All of it was clearly on show in this Euro 2020 opener and being the first game of the tournament, it will have made a definite statement seen by the other competitors.
Forget the 2017 side that couldn’t score against Sweden in two legs of the play-off. This is the new Italy. Cast aside any notions of a team taking a 1-0 lead and sitting on it. That’s ancient history. Mancini has dragged Calcio kicking and screaming into the modern age.
Yet just giving him the credit is unfair, because looking at those who stood out at the Olimpico this evening, they were just replicating the form we’d seen in Serie A over the last year or so. Domenico Berardi has been excellent for Sassuolo and finally put his ridiculously damaging self-destructive streak behind him. He flourishes in a 4-3-3 at the Mapei Stadium and inevitably suits the Italy version too.
Berardi was involved in all three goals, his cross bundled over the line by whatever it was Merih Demiral was trying to do, his cross finding Leonardo Spinazzola for the shot that was parried into Ciro Immobile’s path, and finally intercepting the goalkeeper’s pass to spark the Lorenzo Insigne goal move. All this while many were complaining he was playing at all rather than the quick, but not as effective, Federico Chiesa.
The 4-3-3 also fits Spinazzola, who has been taking men on and leaving them for dead all season in Serie A and the Europa League. Whenever he was injured, Roma suffered badly in his absence. Manuel Locatelli developed maturity this term as another Sassuolo success story and makes a more than adequate understudy for Marco Verratti, not to mention one less likely to get himself booked.
So much is made of Immobile and Insigne not delivering at an international level, but they were both on target against Turkey and could’ve had more goals too. We even got a trademark right-foot curler from the Napoli captain, after a few failed attempts. Considering Andrea Belotti and Chiesa were on the bench, the Azzurri are certainly not short on options upfront.
Leonardo Bonucci said to keep our feet on the ground, but Italian fans needed this start. On the night they set foot back in a stadium, and in a major tournament, it was all about hope and rebirth. So let us soar with our legs dangling in the sky for a little while, like a drummer in an opening ceremony trying not to get his hat knocked off by the Stadio Olimpico roof.