The eleventh of July, 2021 will go down in footballing history as the day Roberto Mancini and his Italian warriors etched their name in the history books. After missing out on the World Cup in 2018 entirely, Italy snatched the European Championship from England, right under the Wembley arch.
2018 WORLD CUP DESPAIR
Gian Piero Ventura, the septuagenarian, was rather unlucky to be at the helm of affairs when the Italians failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. They had a win percentage of 56% during his stint as the man in charge, but that was not enough to make it past Sweden in an all important qualifying match. A single goal sent Italy packing, and it was their first time failing to qualify for the World Cup since 1958.
After all the despair against Sweden, it was back-to-basics for the Azzurri. The first major change saw some of the ‘Old Guards’ like the evergreen Gianluigi Buffon, former Roma captain Daniele De Rossi and Juve leader Andrea Barzagli all call it quits on their international careers. Gian Piero Ventura was also let go, and in his stead came the then Zenit St. Petersburg manager, Roberto Mancini.
Roberto Mancini started what would eventually become a record breaking era in a rather dicey way. His first game in charge was a narrow 2-1 victory over Saudi Arabia, that could have gone very differently had Mario Balotelli and Andrea Belotti not been on form. Soon afterward, Mancini’s team lost to eventual World Cup winners France, in a 3-1 defeat that reminded Italians of all the pain of previous tournament losses to one of their closest rivals. They would then go on to lose to Portugal in a UEFA Nations League tie, the eventual winners of the competition. But from that day on, things started to change for Italy.
Since losing to Portugal on September 10, 2018, Roberto Mancini has seen his Italian side enjoy one of the longest unbeaten streaks of any national side in the history of the game. It has now gone up to thirty-four and counting, one away from tying the record holders Brazil (35 between 1993-1996) and Spain (35 from 2007-2009).
THE EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS
Coming into the 2020 European Championships, few gave the Azzurri a chance to win the title, despite thumping Senól Gunes’ side 3-0 at the tournament opener. The Italians proved their victory against Turkey wasn’t a fluke, as they went all the way to seal qualification out of their group without conceding a goal.
In the round of 16, the Azzurris were fazed with a high pressing Austrian side. They needed extra time to eventually see them off, but were completely dominant throughout the game.
They then met the oddly ranked world number 1 team in Belgium for their quarter final match and secured a stunning 2-1 victory.
In the semi-finals against Spain, the Italians had to completely change up their game plan, recognizing Spain were having more of the ball. They spent the majority of the match chasing Spain around and only secured their place in the final after a tense penalty shootout win.
Then came the final.
Hoping to win the European championship for the first time, the English side led by Gareth Southgate had their infamous slogan “it’s coming home” fill the Wembley atmosphere.
With majority of the crowd cheering against Italy and the 2012 final bashing against Spain still fresh in their memories, Italy knew they had to do a good ‘Italian job’ to ensure they clinched the title.
The final started in the worst possible way for the Italians, when Luke Shaw scored for England within the first two minutes of the match. The Italians knew they had it all to do, and a calm but persistent build up approach, eventually paid dividend. Mancini’s substitutions also proved to pay off as Bryan Cristante won an all-crucial header for Leonardo Bonucci to find the back of the net in the 67th minute.
The game went into extra-time, and then penalties, leaving it all to do for goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma. The Italian keeper did not disappoint and helped his team secure a crucial victory, while also claiming the Player of the Tournament award for himself in the process.
The smiles and cheers on the faces of the Italians and their fans became clear proof that the ghost of the 2018 World Cup would no longer haunt them.
Roberto Mancini’s side will hope to make 2021 a remarkable year for Italy as they now have their sights set on the UEFA Nations League Finals, set to be hosted in Rome. A victory for the Azzurri will ensure the ecstasy stays a little longer, and could also extend their unbeaten streak to record-breaking heights.
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