As Italy celebrate their triumph at UEFA Euro 2020, Oli Coates takes a look at how the Azzurri have silenced their doubters to bring the trophy home.
Although Italy went into UEFA Euro 2020 on the back of an impressive unbeaten run, few people considered the Azzurri to be serious contenders to go all the way in this summer’s tournament. After all, the Azzurri had failed to even qualify for the last World Cup, while there were a number of countries at the Euros with stronger squads and much shorter odds.
Roberto Mancini has cultivated a winning mentality within the Italian squad, though, with even stalwarts like Leonardo Bonucci attesting to the confidence the Azzurri coach has brought to his ranks. Much of the hard work has been hidden from the outside world, however, with certain portions of the media failing to recognise Italy’s many strengths.
The usual cliches about resolute Italian defences and astute tactical systems will always follow the Azzurri. Yet the exciting, attractive football being played in the final third took some people by surprise, as Italy showed a renewed commitment to fluid attacking football in the early stages of EURO 2020.
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When needed, the whole Italian team bared their teeth in defence too. Gritty and well organised, the defensive prowess came to the fore in the latter stages of the European Championship. Italy showed their ability to control possession in the final against England, but perhaps the biggest contributing factor to their success was the Azzurri’s experience.
There was little panic when England made a lightning start to take the lead within the opening couple of minutes. The Azzurri showed very little genuine threat going forward in the first half, but their experience and know-how kept the deficit to a single goal, providing the platform for Bonucci’s leveller.
Italy were by far the better team in the second half and throughout extra time, with their experience both on the pitch and in their coaching ranks proving decisive. Whereas Gareth Southgate’s substitutions had no positive effect on England’s struggles to wrest back some control of the game, Mancini and his staff called the shots in style.
This was something perhaps overlooked by many sections of the media, and particularly within the English press. Every country has its differing collection of pundits, ranging from the overtly pessimistic to the quietly confident and the exuberant in their faith. The likes of Rio Ferdinand would fall into the latter category.
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The former England defender claimed England shouldn’t care whether they would face Italy or Spain in the final, as the Three Lions would beat either team. No doubt caught up in the moment, Ferdinand has previous in terms of over-optimism when it comes to covering his former club, Manchester United.
The retired centre-back was also caught up in the wave of optimism surrounding this current England squad, the like of which has not been seen in a generation. He did acknowledge Italy as the best team in the tournament, though, posting on Instagram the day after the final.
Ferdinand also acknowledged the Azzurri’s 34-game unbeaten run in his post, which now goes back nearly three years. His former Man United teammate, Gary Neville, has also recognised Italy’s unbeaten run during the course of the tournament but dampened the achievement by talking down the quality of some of their opponents.
Neville agreed with ex-Arsenal midfielder and French World Cup winner Patrick Vieira when stating his belief that Italy would fall short at the Euros. Despite putting three goals past both a Turkey team who were widely regarded as one of the summer’s dark horses after some excellent recent form and then a Switzerland side renowned for their solid defence, the pair claimed Italy lacked intensity, power and pace.
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The Azzurri have shown through their performances to get through the knockout stages and then beat hosts England in the final this couldn’t be further from the truth. The Italian players have shown incredible desire, with their intensity in the final a key ingredient of their success and beat not only England at Wembley Stadium but also Spain and Belgium who were among the favourites to lift the trophy.
There’s always noise and bluster at international tournaments. There’s always an optimistic host, a disappointing heavyweight and a surprise package. People get carried away, often before their team falls flat on their face. That’s the reality of sports. What Italy have done this summer is show they can rise above all the talk to deliver where and when it really matters.
The Azzurri have shown a wonderful blend of attacking cohesion and defensive power, tied together nicely by their experience, tactical awareness, game management and know-how. One word for Italy’s doubters? Silenzio.