Soccer

The Italian Renaissance: From World Cup failure to European champions

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 11: Italy lift the The Henri Delaunay Cup, the European Championship trophy after victory over England in a penalty shoot out during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Final between Italy and England at Wembley Stadium on July 11, 2021 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images)
Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

The Renaissance: known as the period of European cultural, political, and economic rebirth. Invented by German Johannes Gutenberg in 1440. Unfortunately, not a single person reading this article had the opportunity to witness such a movement. However, all of us were able to be a bystander in an Italian Renaissance in 2021, thanks to inventor Roberto Mancini.

The ‘rebirth’ of Italian football started in 2018. The Azzurri’s failure to qualify for the Russia World Cup for the first time since 1958 after losing to Sweden in the play-offs of the World Cup Qualifiers started a revolution. Three years later, the Italians are now at the mountain top of European football.

Losing out on a World Cup was a big disappointment for the Italians, accustomed to being contenders in major tournaments. However, the 2018 World Cup would miss an ´Azzuri´ team that needed a generational change. As a result, Giampiero Ventura was fired, and the Italian federation appointed Roberto Mancini as their new manager.

The former Manchester City and Inter boss did what many managers fail to do, revolutionize the squad. Mancini has used as many as 67 players in the past three years, 35 of them debutants. Of those debutants, Locatelli, Emerson, Barella, Pessina, Toloi, and Bastoni have all become European champions. These players have been key to Italy´s success in the Euros. However, without Mancini´s unhesitant changes, it wouldn’t have been possible.

The new with the old

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 11: Roberto Mancini, Head Coach of Italy celebrates with The Henri Delaunay Trophy following his team's victory in the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Final between Italy and England at Wembley Stadium on July 11, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Roberto Mancini and his staff were able to create a mix between new and more experienced players. Bonucci, Chiellini, and Immobile are amongst guys who have been around for a little longer than other players in the squad who had never competed in a major tournament. This was important as winning requires not only talent but plenty of experience. Because of this, Roberto Mancini created a strong group with the talent and experience coming into the Euros. Italy´s captain, Giorgio Chiellini, spoke about this topic to UEFA.com before the competition. The 36-year-old defender has over 100 caps for the national team and was part of the team that lost to Spain in the EURO 2012 final.

 “The youngsters adapted well to the group. Obviously some knees will be knocking ahead of such an important tournament and cool heads will be needed in some moments, but I’m also happy to have that small bit of light-heartedness and craziness that only the youngsters can bring to a team.”

Giorgio Chiellini to UEFA.com
ROME, ITALY - JUNE 11: Lorenzo Insigne of Italy celebrates after scoring their side's third goal during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Group A match between Turkey and Italy at the Stadio Olimpico on June 11, 2021 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Style of play

Before Mancini´s appointment, Italian football was not at its best. Juventus dominated the Serie A with a 9th consecutive league title, and Italian teams were not performing well in European football. Despite Juventus making it as far as the Champions League final in recent years, an Italian team was yet to win a UCL trophy since Inter Milan in 2010.

Following Inter’s European title, Italian football was seen as defensive and unpleasant to watch, and it remained that way until Mancini took the wheel of the national team. The ´Azzurri´ manager changed the way fans looked at the Italian style of play, inheriting the approach of ex-manager Arigo Sacchi. This approach consisted of players determining their position according to the following factors: the ball, the space, teammates, and the opponents. This allowed Italy to play more attacking football, which is pleasant to watch.

Road to EURO 2020 Win

TOPSHOT - Italy's midfielder Federico Chiesa (L) celebrates with teammates after scoring the opening goal during the UEFA EURO 2020 round of 16 football match between Italy and Austria at Wembley Stadium in London on June 26, 2021. (Photo by Frank Augstein / POOL / AFP) (Photo by FRANK AUGSTEIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
FRANK AUGSTEIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Italy´s unbeaten streak continues. They last lost at the hands of EURO 2016 winners Portugal in 2018. However, despite the 34 game run, winning the EURO 2020 was far from easy for the Azzurri’s. Many fans had them as contenders, and many did not think they could take down France or Belgium. Either way, The Azzuri’s did not listen to any outside noise and cruised to the Round of 16 in style.

Italy managed to score six goals and conceding none in the group stages. A 2-1 victory against Austria in the Round of 16 and a dominant quarterfinals performance against Belgium put Italy in the semifinals. From there, you could say luck was in favor of the Italians, but, let’s face it, a team cannot succeed unless a bit of luck is on their side.

Italy became the first team in the tournament to win back-to-back penalty shootouts in EURO 2020, which Spain and Switzerland failed to achieve. Their first European title since 1968. Now, 500 days before the 2022 Qatar World Cup, the Italian Renaissance is complete. All eyes will be on Mancini and Italy next year, as they look to win their 5th World Cup title.

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