Since winning their 4th World Cup title in 2006, the head coach of Italian national teams have been the missing link behind the failures they’ve experienced in major tournaments. From Marcello Lippi to Roberto Mancini, any Azzurri head coach has been aware of the big shoes they’ve needed to fill; not to mention insurmountable pressure from a strict soccer federation that expects Championship status, and a nation of 60 million supporters who consider anything less than 1st Place, a failure.
Marcello Lippi, the celebrated coach who led a stacked squad to golden glory at FIFA World Cup ’06, returned to manage the Azzurri in 2010 at the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. He was swamped with the fallacious belief that he could repeat the glorious triumph of 4 years prior. No team in World Cup history has won the FIFA World Cup back-to-back, and an overconfident Lippi almost tarnished his legacy, learning he wouldn’t be the exception. Italy failed to survive the group stage at South Africa, with lackluster stats: 2 draws and 1 loss. Moreover, at Euro ’08 and ’12, Italy were eliminated from both tournaments at the hands of Spain; the former coached by Lippi in a Quarterfinal PK shootout, the latter a depressing 4-0 score in the final, with coach Cesare Prandelli at the helm.
After being bombarded with Vuvuzela horns, Italy’s treacherous performance at the FIFA World Cup 2014 in Brazil under Prandelli would follow a similar suit from their South African outing. The Italians were involved in a debacle, when Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez literally bit Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini in the ear, akin to Mike Tyson slicing-off a piece of Evander Holyfield, in that infamous heavyweight boxing match of 1997. This incident is the only memorable event from those hot days amid the jungles of Brazil, as Italy’s fate would have 2 losses, preventing an advancement to the Round-of-16 for a second consecutive World Cup. The chip on the shoulder began to grow, and caused Italy to display a promising improvement at Euro 2016 under coach Antonio Conte, losing to Germany in an action-packed PK shootout in the Quarterfinals. This caused Italy to gain momentum. They set their eyes on the World Cup to come 2 years later in France. But, the Azzurri hadn’t hit rock-bottom with real defeat just yet. There are worse things in the soccer ethos than failing to advance out of your group in a major tournament, and for Italy, they met their demise after failing to qualify for the World Cup altogether. An utter shock for the powerhouse nation, who were living the unimaginable.
The embarrassment that ensued thereafter caused tumultuous humiliation and international upheaval. Italy is ranked in 2nd with most titles in World Cup history, and they’d failed to qualify for the tournament. This was an unfathomable nightmare for the Azzurri, leading several players like Daniele De Rossi and Gianluigi Buffon into retirement from national duty, out of self-retribution. Italy degraded themselves and disappointed their nation. And they watched the 2018 games from home, observing other teams like Iran, Iceland and Serbia, prove to be superior in performance; a jaw dropping shock for the once unstoppable Italian force, and their mastery with the game of calcio.
Defeat is the secret ingredient of success. One cannot truly appreciate triumph without tasting failure. After the world has now witnessed Italy go on a 33-game win-streak since the heartbreak of 2018, it’s become clearly apparent the Azzurri are gunning for redemption at Euro 2020. The Italians anticipate their arrival to the final match, scheduled to be played on Sunday July 11, 2021 at Wembley Stadium in London against the host nation, England. Any keen eye would discern the towering chip Italy has on their shoulder. A collective energy spawned by a national vendetta from an abhorring failure to qualify for the World Cup in 2018 has powered Italy with a divine, magical charm. This built-up force can only be transmuted to victory by a mastermind leading the pack. In 2006, his name was Marcello Lippi, the catenaccio style coach who led a team of stacked talent to glory. Lippi managed egos and innumerable talents with unity toward a common goal. 15 years later, at Euro 2020, his name is Roberto Mancini; the famed former Manchester City boss who led his club to a Premier League title in 2012, and considers it his finest achievement, thus far. Mancini is respected in England, and Sunday’s final will be an exciting feat to witness, as England hopes to conquer their own quest for glory, having failed to win a major tournament since beating West Germany 4-2 in the final match of the World Cup in 1966.
History has shown that on any team sport, in order to win the championship, the stacked line-up on the roster need to be on-point, with players performing their duties in top-tier form. Moreover, the team must be guided by a masterminded coach who employs objective thinking. Roberto Mancini has been able to delegate tasks to players with efficiency, teaching the men in blue to crush any ounce of existing egotism or self-deprecating pride. Marcello Lippi led the way in ’06 with similarities on a team that also had a massive chip on their shoulder. For the squad in ’06, the chip began to grow when Roberto Baggio single-handedly took his team to the final of World Cup USA ’94, only to be held accountable for losing the match with an infamous penalty kick over the cross-bar (a bittersweet, love/hate memory for any Italian soccer fan). Nevertheless, there was light at the end of that dark tunnel. Thereafter, through trial, error and continuous eliminations, Italy’s catastrophic conquests at the major tournaments of Euro’s ’00/’04 and World Cup’s ’98/’02 would ripen their hearts and strengthen their souls, leading to a relentless pursuit for gold in 2006.
These defeats ripened Italy with the development of star-studded, world-class talent like never before. Italy became incredibly stacked to the point where Giovanni Trappatoni (the head coach in 2002) headed into World Cup Korea/Japan while refusing to select Roberto Baggio for the team. Italy had produced 2 outstanding players who would compete over Baggio’s venerated #10 jersey. Since they played the same position as Baggio (attacking-midfielder), three would become a crowd. They were a dynamic duo known as Francesco Totti & Alessandro Del Piero. Nevertheless, the doomed failure at FIFA World Cup 2002 would be a blessing in disguise for Baggio’s absence, due to corrupt FIFA officiating. This contamination would feed the growth of that chip on Italy’s shoulder to a mountainous degree, heading into the World Cup games of 2006 in Germany with an army of striking warriors: Luca Toni (the goal-scoring powerhouse from Fiorentina) and Filippo Inzaghi (criticized for always being offside, but forgiven for always being in the right place at the right time). The team was aided by the goalkeeping of Gigi Buffon, who was guarded by Fabio Cannavaro (the catenaccio king) and Gianluca Zambrotta (the greatest winger in Italian history) and propped up in the midfield with support by genius playmaker Andrea Pirlo, fearless Argentine-Italian Mauro Camoranesi, and savage aggressor Gennaro Gattuso (who was always down for an old-fashioned scrap). Only Marcello Lippi could manage these egos into a unit, transmuting embedded tensions toward the pursuit of greatness; like Dino Zoff and Paolo Rossi’s glory in ’82; Italy’s 3rd World Cup Title.
At Euro 2020, a similar fate beholds the Italians. Roberto Mancini’s squad is in the final match. All the pieces seem to be in play like in 2006, and superior at best. The shoes of Gianluigi Buffon have been upgraded to those of a goalkeeper with the same first name: Gianluigi Donnarumma. The defensive twin towers are veteran Leonardo Bonucci and captain Giorgio Chiellini. Ciro Immobile has supplanted Totti with a similar style of play, and Marcello Lippi considers midfielder, Nicolo Barella, the team’s star. If that wasn’t enough, Italy has produced a player that displays remnants of Baggio’s finesse and finishing capabilities: Lorenzo Insigne, the Napoli striker home to heroes of past like Diego Maradona. Insigne’s touch and mind-bending shot techniques resemble a Baggio highlight reel. The 2020 squad has wild cards; players like Marco Verratti, who resembles a stature and fluidity like Spain’s Xavi; it’s as if Verratti’s a Spanish player in disguise for Italy. On top of all these layers of cake, there’s icing with Federico Chiesa–an aggressive goal scorer with tactical maneuvering who gets what he wants, done–and a cherry on top, with a 12th man in Andrea Belotti; a striker who serves off the bench, carrying himself with the posture of a professional boxer, and a physiology that suggests a Roman warriors spirit embedded within his soul.
If that’s not enough, Italy’s current hybrid, dual-national is Jorginho, a born & raised Brazilian who immigrated to Italy at age 16. Italy is 2nd to none, except for Brazil. This is an undeniable fact since Italy has lost to Brazil on the grand stage, twice, both in the final matches of the World Cup in ’70 and ’94. The fact that Italy has Brazilian blood pumping in the veins of a 90-minute midfielder on the pitch, not only displays the progressive evolvement of a nation who uses dual-ethnic players (Camoranesi in ’06, Mario Balotelli in ’12), but serves as a frightening thought for opposing teams (since Brazil is known to produce amazing players). Jorginho serves as evidence of this claim, with his tireless legs and lungs, capable of going the distance to 120 minutes, and scoring the game winning kick in a shootout during a semi-final against Spain on July 6, sending Italy to the Euro 2020 Final. Jorginho has gained the spotlight going into Sunday’s epic match against England, becoming a Brazilian-Italian hero. Not only is Italy favored to win against England on Sunday, it should come as no surprise that coach Roberto Mancini has his eyes set on full redemption at next years FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar. Win or lose on Sunday, Italy is clearly a force to be reckoned with; a force neither Neymar of Brazil or Messi of Argentina can stand against, without the aid of an army like the current Italian national team. Vivo Azzurro, Forza Italia!
written by ardalan pourvali