A terrible, predictable pun – stating that Italy is alla frutta after drawing with Macedonia in their penultimate qualification round game on their way to Russia 2018 – has been used in every single local article, post, or discussion commenting the Azzurri’s last night disappointing performance against the Balkan side.
Some clarification is required for non-Italian speakers here: In the language of the Belpaese, macedonia is also the name of a fruit salad. And, essere alla frutta (literally, “to be eating fruit”) means to be eating the last course of a meal – so, being at the end of it, not having it anymore. You are alla frutta when you are done, you hit rock bottom.
So, the Azzurri are alla frutta after having failed to win their match against…a fruit salad. Whoa. Funny, isn’t it? You can easily understand how no local commentator could resist the temptation of using this pun when reporting about the match from last night at the Grande Torino Stadium…
Coach Gian Piero Ventura’s Italian squad was held to a 1-1 home draw by Macedonia – a respectable team indeed, but with a football tradition and palmarès far from the one of a National side that love to pride themselves with their four World Cup titles, but too often fail to prove worth of them on the pitch. Defender Giorgio Chiellini gave the Azzurri a delusional lead, before Aleksandar Trajkovski – who plays in Italian Serie B for Palermo – equalised for the Balkans and gave Macedonia one of the most sensational moments in their young football history.
One point was enough for Italy to “secure” the second spot in Group G and most likely will give them access to the November last-call play off for the train to Russia – but, you know what? That is not even 100% sure as of now, with the Azzurri still facing a minimal chance of being excluded from the top 8 second-classified teams among the qualification groups.
That would mean watching World Cup 2018 from the sofa bed of their living rooms, and it would mean – as multiple commentators in the mediasphere are putting it – avoiding the risk of coming up with additional poor figures such as the ones made last night with Macedonia or last month with Spain.
Coach Ventura doesn’t of course want to hear about it, but after another performance well below expectations he had to admit for the first time that “we won’t go to Russia if we play like this,” and that “this is a tough moment.”
Captain Gianluigi Buffon called for the team veterans, including himself, to “find the strength to make a difference, and push the younger players to perform at their best.” Buffon went on to say that the heavy defeat against Spain shattered the team’s confidence and had a negative psychological impact after one year of positive performances.
There is sense in the Captain’s words, but one could also argue that maybe the team was simply being overconfident, and that the positive results collected in an objectively easy qualification group contributed to hide the limits of a team where quality and mental fortitude are lacking.
For the match against the Macedonians, Ventura decided to move away from his hazardous 4-2-4 for a more tested 3-4-3 lineup, another hint that his “we-will-go-to-Russia-and-we-will-surprise-them-all” line looked more like a façade statement. Time for experiments is over, and in meager times Italy’s trainer had to recur to the famed BBC on the back (Barzagli-Bonucci-Chiellini plus Buffon guarding the goal) upon which Juventus’ domination on Serie A – as well as the Azzurri’s successful Euro 2016 campaign – was built.
But the once-impenetrable defensive line seems to have lost its edge, and one would assume that it’s only fair enough, with the average age among the four of them being 34. Leonardo Bonucci’s struggles, both with his new side Milan and with the Nazionale, are the emblem of the tough times Italian football is going through, and perhaps an indication that the problem has a psychological aspect indeed.
Forced absences of some injured and disqualified players like Daniele De Rossi, Marco Verratti, and Andrea Belotti offered a possibility to wear an Azzurri jersey and shine to many new faces, but none of them took advantage of the chance.
Simone Verdi’s recent good performances with Bologna led Ventura to include him in the starting lineup against Macedonia, but the bolognese winger left no significant trace. Roberto Gagliardini from Inter was given the task to light up Italy’s midfield for his second Nazionale cap, and didn’t show much more that what done with his club – where he still needs to reach the level of performance from last year. Substitutes Federico Bernardeschi and Bryan Cristante didn’t manage to change the trend of the match once sent in during the second half.
In a 3-man attacking line, Lorenzo Insigne got the chance to play in a position closer to the one he covers in Napoli, but once again failed to live up to his name. It was often being argued that Ventura forced him to play out of position on the far-left flank – but now, what’s the excuse for the one who is supposed to be the most talented Italian player of this generation?
There is hardly any good to find in yesterday’s match. The calendar offers another prompt chance for redeem, as Italy will face Albania next Monday for the last qualification round game before the November playoffs. But Ventura has little time to find the crux of the matter and bring the Nazionale back to their expected level of performance.
If that doesn’t happen, then it might be just good to let social media haters have it, and watch Russia 2018 as spectators – as we take the necessary time to re-start from zero and rebuild our football confidence from scratch.
SCORERS: 39’ Chiellini (I); 77’ Trajkovski (M)
ITALY (3-4-3): Buffon; Barzagli (46’ Rugani), Bonucci, Chiellini; Zappacosta, Parolo, Gagliardini (75’ Cristante), Darmian; Verdi (64’ Bernardeschi), Immobile, Insigne. (Donnarumma, Perin, D’Ambrosio, Astori, Spinazzola, Barella, Candreva, Eder, Gabbiadini). Coach: Ventura.
MACEDONIA (3-5-2): Dimitrievski; Ristovski, Musliu, Velkoski (76’ Zajkov); Radeski, Hasani (19’ Trajkovski), Spirovski, Bardi, Alioski; Pandev (80’ Trickovski), Nestorovski. (Siskovski, Mitov Nilson, Tosevski, Doriev, Jahovic). Coach: Angelovski.
REFEREE: Martins (Portugal)
NOTES: Spectators: 23000; Yellow Cards: Aliovski, Hasani (M), Parolo (i); Extra Time: 0’ 1st Half, 3’ 2nd Half
Feature Photo Credit: REUTERS / Max Rossi