Only four months after having enchanted Europe with his « Magic Nights », Roberto Mancini’s Italy has become ordinary again, sent back to the play-offs and threatened to miss the World Cup for the second time in a row … The explanations of an unexpected misfire.
– Evaporated magic –
The lackluster 0-0 in Northern Ireland on Monday confirmed the current difficulties of the European champions: only two victories in the seven matches played since the coronation of Wembley, for four draws and one defeat, that against Spain ( 2-1), in the League of Nations in October, which ended the 37-game unbeaten streak, a record.
Qualification for Qatar was nevertheless on the right track after the three initial victories in March (six goals scored, none conceded). But this lead has evaporated since the summer, with only four draws in the last five matches, two against the direct Swiss rival (0-0, 1-1) but also two unexpected ones, against Bulgaria (1-1) in Florence and Monday in Belfast. Not really worthy of a European champion.
« The magic is over (…) Nobody, on the evening of July 11, with the Cup in hand and a future that seemed bright, imagined such a bitter epilogue », sighed the Corriere della Sera, in tune of a stunned Italian press. « What a nightmare, » headlined the Gazzetta dello Sport.
– Tired heroes –
The Italian heroes of the Euro were absent subscribers during the decisive matches in November. Marco Verratti and Giorgio Chiellini (packages) were caught up by their regular injuries which have only made them intermittent at the Nazionale in recent years.
Those who were on the ground did not make them forget. Lorenzo Insigne, Nicolo Barella, Federico Chiesa, Domenico Berardi, Manuel Locatelli … All those who illuminated the Euro with their enthusiasm and their goals were ghostly in Belfast.
Jorginho, the one who succeeded in everything with Chelsea and Italy, to the point of being cited among the contenders for the Ballon d’Or, symbolizes this big autumn fatigue: unable to change the pace and guilty of missing the two penalties that would have changed everything against Switzerland, the « Professor » inherited the worst score of Italians in Belfast, according to all the press.
– Disarmed attack –
This is the recurring problem of Roberto Mancini’s Italy: the absence of an effective striker, offering a point of support in attack. Ciro Immobile, a priori the right man, still struggles to score as much in Nazionale as with Lazio Rome. And when he is absent, as in the last two matches (injured), the Azzurri do not really have credible alternatives.
Andrea Belotti failed to convince against Switzerland on Friday, nor did Insigne in a « false 9 » role on Monday. The site, which had been left out a bit thanks to the victory at the Euro, again became a priority for the dams in March. « The contested Immobile emerges from each match that he is forced to miss, and therefore the first measure to be taken in view of the play-offs is to restore his full confidence », underlines the editorialist Paolo Condo in La Repubblica.
– Ghosts to hunt –
Beyond the heavy legs, Italy is also painful to see in its attitude, abandoned by the lightness and the taste for risk that have characterized Roberto Mancini’s Nazionale for three years. Despite the coach’s reassuring speech after each new draw, the players seemed to be overtaken by fear, and by the traumatic memory of not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.
The memory of this elimination in the play-offs against Sweden (1-0 defeat then a 0-0 draw) will accompany them until March, where qualification is far from being in the pocket with formidable potential opponents, pending the draw on November 26: Portugal, Poland, Russia or … Sweden again.
Leonardo Bonucci thus called on his teammates to reconnect with their summer “carefree”: “we were playing for fun, without the pressure of wanting to demonstrate something, now that we are European champions, something unconsciously got stuck. «