Editorial: The Future Looks Dark as The Azzurri Hit Rock Bottom

It’s straight talk time. Last night’s abysmal showing against Switzerland is the lowest point the Azzurri hit in a very long time, likely in a few decades.

This was worse than missing back-to-back World Cups, because even in the wake of those failed qualifications, there was always some sort of dim excuse that the most optimistic could cling to. Yes, we failed to qualify to World Cup 2018, but everything started with a single game loss to Spain.  Yes, we didn’t go to Qatar, but if Jorginho had scored even one of those two penalties

Even Italy’s most dramatic crashes out of the World Cup, their historical losses to both sides of the Korean peninsula in 1966 and 2002, left the door open to possible recriminations. Yes, but we played with one man less for one hour. Or yes, but what about Byron Moreno’s refereeing?

Last night was a different story, one that could only have one interpretation. Never had Italy appeared so powerless, so incapable of putting together a reaction when there was just one thing left to save. Pride. Going out to a rock-solid Swiss side would not have been a shame. Doing so without even putting up a fight most definitely is.

Mattia Zaccagni’s last gasp goal against Croatia, which spared the Azzurri an elimination in the group stage of Euro 2024, had only temporarily managed to hide the elephant in the room: Italy’s expedition to Germany was an utter disaster from any possible point of view: Technical, tactical, physical, motivational, communicative, disciplinary, you name it.

What made it even worse is the disheartening feeling that this was not just an ill-fated expedition, something that we will easily recover from because we are Italy. The Euro 2024 fiasco showed the bitter reality of Italian football, an agonizing movement where local talents struggle to flourish and develop.

Today, coach Luciano Spalletti confirmed that he will stay on the job and try to make some order in this mess, but he will have some deep soul searching to do first, since he has his share of guilt for what happened in Germany.

Spalletti was called at Italy’s deathbed last September after Roberto Mancini’s abrupt departure and with the team already facing a steep decline. He could not do miracles with the limited human material currently available in the Italian football landscape. If Serie A second-placed Milan cannot express a single player worth of the Nazionale, that must mean something.

In Germany, Italy’s roster featured players who are either dramatically in regression, like Jorginho, Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Federico Chiesa, or that simply proved inadequate, like Gianluca Scamacca.

On another note, those who missed the tournament due to various reasons, like Nicolò Zaniolo or Sandro Tonali, are not exactly the most righteous ones or those who can set an example. It is just so difficult to love this Nazionale.

And still, there are a couple things that Spalletti could have had an impact on, and that he brutally failed at so far: Giving this team an identity, and making his players fight. Instead, the Azzurri appeared scared, confused, lackadaisical, and disconnected from each other.

While the coach failed at properly motivating his players, his continuous changes in the team setup (with four different modules and lineups in four games…) little did help to give a point of reference to a team that clearly lacked confidence.

At Euro 2016, Antonio Conte had to make do with a Nazionale only slightly more talented than this one (sure, he still had the BBC at the back, but have we forgotten that we played with Eder and Graziano Pellé upfront?). Still, he managed to turn those poorly gifted Azzurri into a pestiferous, gritty team that nobody would have wanted to face.

On the other hand, when the Swiss learned that they would meet Italy in the Round of 16, they must have been celebrating – which they barely made an effort to hide, given the nature of some overconfident and pretentious remarks ahead of the game, which we should have at least tried to defuse by playing with some dignity.

In such a depressing scenario, only one man stood. Captain Gianluigi Donnarumma kept Italy afloat multiple times during this doomed European Championship with his saves, but his most significant act came at the end of the game, as he was the first to apologize to the Italian fans live on TV in his post-match remarks.

Then, he was seen urging his teammates – some of which were reluctant – to all go under the stands and apologize to the fans at the stadium too. He faced the storm in silence and with dignity as the Italian supporters showered the Azzurri with boos and whistles.

At 25 years of age, the once Milan prodigy seems on the right path to becoming a leader, let alone a world class goalkeeper.

That is one of the things the Azzurri will need in order to recover from this disaster, even though it will far from suffice. The night was dark in Berlin, and the future looks even darker.

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