a year after the European coronation, the free fall of the Nazionale
On July 11, 2021, Roberto Mancini’s Nazionale won the second Euro championship in its history. A year and a non-qualification for the World Cup later, Italy, plunged into an uncertain future, has changed a lot.
For a year, Italy has seen all the colors. Crowned European champions at Wembley on July 11, 2021, the Nazionale saw the sky fall on their heads eight months later, when North Macedonia ended their hopes of qualifying for the World Cup in added time from his play-off semi-final in Palermo (0-1). An intense contrast that confirms the sudden decline of the Azzurri.
Since Bukayo Saka’s shot on goal stopped by Gianuigi Donnarumma on the lawn of Wembley synonymous with Italy’s victory at the Euro, Italy has a balanced but above all very disappointing record: 4 wins, 6 draws, 4 losses. Until the famous play-off against North Macedonia, Mancini’s men won only 2 games out of 7, against modest Lithuania (5-0) and against Belgium in a game without stake in the League of Nations (2 -1). For the rest, there are disappointing draws against Bulgaria (1-1), Switzerland (0-0 and 1-1) and Northern Ireland (0-0) as well as a loss against Spain (1-2) which had ended 37 games of invincibility, definitively concluding the prosperous period of the Nazionale.
And the underperformance against the Nati, caused in particular by two missed penalties from Jorginho, pushed Italy to play this ax match against North Macedonia and to this terrible disillusionment. Despite possession and a much higher number of chances (32 shots to 4), the Azzurri attackers did not find the fault and the defense gave in on a long shot from Trajkovski in the 92nd minute. The second earthquake in a row in the play-offs, after the defeat against Sweden in 2017.
Always guided by Mancini, the Nazionale has not yet recovered from this failure as evidenced by the heavy setbacks against Argentina in the Finalissima (0-3) then Germany in the League of Nations (2-5) . Before ending the season with an average record during the June international window (1 win, 2 draws, 1 loss).
Chiellini is over, executives are becoming scarce
Legend of Italian football with 117 selections, Giorgio Chiellini played his last match with his national team on June 1 at almost 38 years old. An announced time close to retiring internationally, Ciro Immobile could continue, as confirmed by his coach on Monday in the columns of the Gazzetta dello Sport. « I think he will come, he never told me he wouldn’t come back, » Mancini said.
Good news for the Nazionale, whose executives are becoming increasingly rare. Leonardo Bonucci, eternal friend of Chiellini, should not however make the same choice. « For my part, there is a desire to continue in order to be an example and a guide for the many young people who wear this shirt, » he said when his teammate retired. He will therefore guide his team for some additional time, while waiting for his successor.
A long-awaited succession
The arrival of a new generation is slow, both to guide the locker room and also the transalpine attack. In lack of leaders, Italy is also looking for an Immobile scorer, Belotti and Berardi not having completely convinced, as well as players to build the future of the selection. This prompted Mancini to call on relatively unknown players or players with an improbable trajectory, like Wilfried Gnonto, an anonymous striker from FC Zürich.
Because the Italian pool does not seem particularly extensive. A problem pointed out, just like the training, after the elimination against North Macedonia. As a reminder, only two Serie A teams used less than 80% foreign players last season.
« We only have 30% of Italian players who play in our youth teams. There are many young Italians who do not play in their club, underlined the president of the federation Gabriele Gravina after the dam last March. This should be our political commitment to reform this issue ». Figure of Italian football, Arrigo Sacchi shares his point of view to explain the disbursements of the selection. « We continue to buy foreign players, even in our youth teams, regretted the former coach of AC Milan. They are bought like stocks of fruits and vegetables. We are certain that this is the way to follow or, rather, that’s not the problem? Let’s start by teaching our young players to play, let’s not go looking for the savior of the homeland, who may come from abroad?
The Italy coach has also been criticized in recent months for his misuse of Euro winners at the expense of the new generation. During the meeting against North Macedonia, only Gianluca Mancini was in the starting line-up without having taken part in the European epic nine months earlier. A problem that seems to have heard the coach. Roberto Mancini thus relied on a very rejuvenated group for the last League of Nations meetings, voluntarily depriving himself of Verratti, Jorginho, Insigne, Emerson and Bernardeshi.
What future for the Nazionale and Mancini?
Despite rumors of departure, Roberto Mancini will remain at the head of Italy. This Monday, Mancini nevertheless confirms having thought about resigning several times in recent months. « I was tempted to leave, I found myself in a very difficult situation, he says about the post-defeat against North Macedonia. I thought about it a bit after Wembley, but the World Cup took place a little over a year later.
And the Italian coach adds that he still has big ambitions for his selection. « Since I’ve been a coach, I’ve always had one goal: to win European championships and World Cups, he breathes. A year ago I said to myself: ‘We win them one after the other. ‘. I was thinking about this World Cup. But I still think we’re going to win one. »
Before the 2026 World Cup, the road is still very long for the Azzurri, who have other objectives for the coming months. First, the end of the group stage of the League of Nations. They occupy third place in their group (Hungary, Germany, England) two days from the end, but with 2 small points behind the Hungarian leader. Enough to feed hopes for the Final Four (from June 14 to 18, 2023) before returning to England (September 23) then Hungary (September 26). It will then be time to begin its preparation for Euro 2024, in order to definitively close this strange chapter and fully begin its reconstruction.