EURO 2016: Can The Unfancied Italians Find A Way To The Final?


I think only the true die-hard Azzurri fans will be watching the Euros with any hope of Italy doing really well this summer. Most believe that the Italians have no hope of winning their first European title since 1968 and that this squad represents one of their weakest at a major tournament.

Players like Mario Balotelli and Sebastien Giovinco, once heralded as Italy’s next big things, haven’t reached their potential and haven’t made the cut for Euro 2016.

Expectations were also high that Stephan El Shaarawy, Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne could be international greats much like Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero and Roberto Baggio before them. But although all three have been selected by Italian coach Antonio Conte, they have still to prove themselves on the international scene. Between them they have managed to amass just forty-one caps and have only returned six goals.

Midfield maestro Marco Verratti, who has shown that he can be a great orchestrator in the middle, unfortunately misses out after having an operation last month. The Azzurri are also missing the energetic Claudio Marchisio from their midfield as he also succumbed to an injury. While superstar Andrea Pirlo has also missed out after Conte decided not to take the veteran magician to France.

In the team, only defensive midfielder Daniele De Rossi (108 Caps/18 Goals) has managed to hit double figures in terms of goals for the national team. It should be noted that the Roma man hasn’t actually scored an international goal since October 2014!

So Italy come into this completion without that iconic number ten star and with a pretty inexperienced offensive department. That could be an issue. Plus coach Conte has already announced that this will be his only tournament as Italy’s boss as he’s taking over at Chelsea after the Euros. Maybe not ideal preparation.

But I believe that Conte still has a squad capable of shocking a few people this summer.

The defensive foundations are once again strong. 

The spine in the defence is made up from the extremely successful Juventus backline. Those players have now won the Scudetto five seasons in a row. Don’t forget that it was Antonio Cinte that started that run with the Turin giants and he knows that these players will run through brick walls for him, if he asked them.

Obviously they still have experienced shot-stopper Gianluigi Buffon in between the sticks. He may be thirty-eight years old now, but the Tuscan native is still a world-class goalkeeper. He’s also a leader and wears the captain’s armband with immense pride. When he speaks the other players listen. As a goalie his mere aura intimidates opponents. His winning experiences could be vital for this slightly inexperienced pool of players.

At Juventus, Antonio Conte would often employ a 3-5-2 formation and he will probably use that formation again with the Azzurri. That will see Juve trio Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chellini play in front of Buffon as the back three. The understanding these players already have with one another should stand Italy in good stead and it could prove to be extremely difficult for opponents to get beyond them.

You’d expect that cleansheets and impressive defensive displays could prove to be crucial if Italy are going to go far in this tournament and that’s why Conte trusts those four stalwarts and soldiers entirely.

De Rossi is another warrior that will be used to marshall in front of the defence and be seen as a leader in the midfield to help those around him. He may no longer be the same player as he was in 2006 but I am sure he can do a disciplined job and lead by example, as he give his all for the teams cause.

If Thiago Motta plays alongside De Rossi in the engine room then you can be guaranteed that the Azzurri are being set up to be as pragmatic as possible. They could be the tournaments spoilers that will win at the back rather than bang the door down with constant attacks. Although Alessandro Florenzi and Emanuele Giaccherini were used beside De Rossi in Italy’s recent win over Scotland.

The model used by Conte against the Scots seemed to be just do enough to beat your opponents. The Italians bossed the game and dictated the play but they never made superiority count more than it needed to.

Unfortunately the thought of Eder and Graziano Pellè as a duo up-top doesn’t really thrill anyone.

Southampton frontman Pellè has a healthy international record of five goals in thirteen caps, including three in the qualifiers. He’s good in the air, works hard, can hold up the ball and can link up play as well. Very good at finishing when the chance presents itself in the sky with either his head or with a volley/half-volley. Scored the winner against Scotland and it was a well taken goal.

This could be a tournament that one of the substitutes shows that they can come off the bench and change things ala Salvatore Schillaci at Italia 90. Insigne, Immobile and Simone Zaza will need to be ready if called upon.

Remember no really fancied the Azzurri back in 2006, but they shocked the world that year and became four time World Cup champions. They actually seem to progress more when the pressure isn’t as intense and expectation isn’t high.

In Conte they have a strong coach that drills his players and seems to get the best out of them. He isn’t all about stars, it’s a unified team that’s willing to die for the shirt that gets his approval.

They might not be the easiest on the eye in France this summer but the Azzurri might just close out a lot of games and maybe even go all the way to the final.

The first test against Belgium later on today, will show us all which Italy Italy has turned up. A good win could settle a few nerves and persuade more people to take the Italians seriously again.

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