The next morning, Gareth Southgate’s offer to end England’s 55-year wait for a major trophy ended in the familiar agony of defeat, according to an Italian daily. Tutosport entitled: “Siamo Solo Noi”.
“Now we’re just us.” The last team on foot.
But the kings of the old continent will not be in the World Cup. They are probably the only apparent absence left in Europe for this winter’s main event.
England’s loss was deeply felt after impressing throughout the knockout stage last summer, but Italy’s joy turned to despair ahead of the UEFA Nations League reunion at Molineux on Saturday.
A win for England this time would not offset the overwhelming disappointment of a home-shooting loss in a grand final, but it would certainly be welcomed by Southgate as continued criticism of his cautious approach resurfaced. this week.
Such a well-known reprimand has erased in the shadows beneath the Southgate – should he play a defensive trio? Should he start Jack Grealish? But these valuable observations would certainly be considered minor hostilities in the context of their opponent’s alarming situation this weekend.
Italy got off to the best start to this new season of the League of Nations, taking four points from its two games to lead Group A3, while England is at the bottom with just one point from its two games.
In Munich against Germany on Tuesday, there were signs that Southgate was able to change a game with his replacements, that he was capable of changing form and that England were able to adapt.
These are part of what should be called the “talking points” that should all be removed and taken to Doha in five months. This League of Nations for England is about the wider picture, an audition for the extreme players and even a chance to rest those who are already on the plane.
This is not the case for Italy. For Roberto Mancini there is no pre-tournament match. Because Italy will not go to the World Cup.
The question is whether last summer’s success at the European Championships is the anomaly, the periphery or whether Italy’s failure to qualify for the World Cup in a row is in fact a symptom of a declining trajectory that involved Azzurri.
The exchange of fire victory over England was proclaimed as a victory for unity in the face of adversity; Tutosport sprinkled with “It’s all of us” in homage to the unification of the Italian team.
Daily Gazzetta Dello Sport described the country as “bursting with joy” with the triumph of “very beautiful” and “every Italian feels like a giant”.
Corriere dello SportEditor-in-Chief Ivan Zazzaroni even went so far as to declare that ‘football has returned to its true homeland’ – an excavation in England and their undisciplined fans who had threatened to ruin the show by entering the stadium by illegal means.
The streets of Rome were filled with Italian flags and banners as President Sergio Mattarella welcomed the team to its home at the Quirinal Presidential Palace a day after the dramatic events at Wembley.
Italian football has had very little to boast about. In October last year, Mancini’s 37-match unbeaten streak – a world record – was broken by Spain at the San Siro, a 2-1 defeat in the League of Nations semifinals.
It was a measure of revenge for Spain after losing on penalties in the Euro 2020 semi-finals, and for Italy it was the first competitive loss in their country since their loss: the descent to Denmark at the Stadio San Paolo in Naples in 1999.
However, the worst would come next month.
Italy needed only a two-match win to reserve their place in Qatar, starting with Switzerland’s visit to Rome, but the match would end 1-1 as Jorginho’s last-minute penalty defeat secured the race to end first in qualifying group C. get off the wire.
Northern Ireland then resisted an attack from possession Italy to win a goalless draw at Windsor Park, preventing Italy from automatically qualifying for the World Cup.
The prospect of four-time world champions, eliminated by Sweden in Russia 2018 play-offs, to lose consecutive World Cups became an opportunity, especially when they faced Portugal.
Northern Macedonia had to be negotiated first, but the Stadio Barbera of Palermo would see one of the biggest concerns in world football. Aleksandar Trajkovski – a former Palermo player – let out a thunderbolt to leave Mancini irresponsible.
It was like November 2017 after the loss to the Swedes, when Carlo Tavecchio, then head of the Italian Football Federation, described the absence of a World Cup as an “apocalypse”.
To some degree, this is just what the game throws from time to time; Italy had 32 shots against four goals from Northern Macedonia and an expected goal 1.98-0.18. But to the same extent, UEFA has made it quite difficult for heavy players to miss big tournaments; Italy somehow conspired to do it twice.
At least until 2026 they will compete again in a World Cup after doing so for the last time in Brazil – erasing the highlights of an entire lost generation – Marco Verratti will be 33 years old after reaching 21 years old in the Brazil tour under the direction of Cesare Prandelli. .
It is a collective failure born of complacency and abuse.
Jorginho – third in the Golden Ball last year – really missed the penalty in both games against the Swiss, while the conversion of each would have secured first place. The attackers who impressed 12 months ago have experienced personal challenges.
Ciro Immobile, who finished in Serie A. capocannoniere on four occasions, he scored just 15 goals in 55 appearances for his country. Federico Chiesa suffered a serious ACL injury in January, ruling him out for the season.
Lorenzo Insigne had flourished under Mancini after failing to adapt to Antonio Contes’s favorite system in 2016 or Giampiero Ventura’s style of play, who inexplicably left the playmaker on the bench after Italy lost the World Cup for the first time. in 60 years against Sweden. .
The Insigne embodied the Italian renaissance last summer with his brilliant performances, playing with freedom during the decline of his career, but the small winger is linked to the MLS with Toronto FC.
The call of Mario Balotelli, who now conducts his trade with Adana Demirspor in Turkey, in March seemed a sign of despair. However, such a reaction is representative of a deeper crisis that has plagued the domestic game.
Tavecchio’s successor, Gabriele Gravina, has highlighted the lack of options due to only 32% of Italians playing in Serie A.
“There are very few players selected,” Gravina said during the debacle of Northern Macedonia. “We need to understand why so many young players are not used to their club teams. »
There was a similar complaint against the development of Italian football in 2017, but as the success of the European Championship would follow four years later, Mancini admitted that failure to invest in the future had contributed to the subsequent destruction of the national team.
Italy was far behind Argentina in conclusion back at Wembley earlier this month, a renewed race between the European and South American champions.
Argentina’s 3-0 win difference represented two nations currently heading in opposite directions, with former players Lionel Messi and Angel di Maria inspired to extend their unbeaten run to 32 games – now 33 after the win 5- 0 against Estonia, four less than Italy. . registration.
Lionel Scaloni’s squad looks good to end their 36-year hunt for a third world crown, but they have discovered the restraining scale of Italy’s reconstruction.
This League of Nations campaign marks the beginning of a new era, with Giorgio Chiellini ending his international career after his 118th and final match. There were doubts whether Mancini would stay, but the former Manchester City coach was given the task of narrowing the gap to the elite nations.
The process began with players like Alessandro Bastoni and Gianluca Scamacca, both 23 and 22 years old. Striker Giacomo Raspadori is just his fourth start in the loss to Argentina.
The fear is that things will get worse before they improve for Italy, but Mancini appeared at home for inspiration as he warned that the Serie A system needs to be addressed for the country’s earliest talents to flourish.
“Little has happened in the last four years and in fact we are still the same in the national team,” he said last month.
“The first thing is to give more confidence to the coaches as AC Milan did with Stefano Pioli [who won the Scudetto this season]. Two years ago it seemed he was leaving, today he wins the championship.
“Many coaches do not let new players play because they are afraid to make mistakes. Being in 32% of Italian players in Serie A is very restrictive for all national teams.
“Nicolo Zaniolo arrived at Coverciano [Italy’s training base] for the first time and looked like a child, after two months everything changed. The boys are improving rapidly. »
Roberto Mancini has been hailed as a “wonderful visionary” after sitting on the right side of the thin border that summer night at Wembley.
But the talent group is increasingly shallow and further north, in Montenegro, he and Italy have to dig deep for answers as they start again.