At the start of the European Championships, Italy – one of the most decorated teams in international football history – were considered nothing more than dark horses to lift the trophy.
But their form throughout the competition has been impeccable, and so much so they now find themselves in the final against hosts England and are basically considered a 50/50 chance in the Euro betting odds to add a second continental title to their collection.
Winning is one thing, but doing it in style is quite another. And as a nation that prides itself on being one of the planet’s fashion capitals, looking good is of paramount importance.
When Roberto Mancini took over Italy, they were at their lowest ever point in the FIFA rankings and had just failed to qualify for the World Cup.
They’re now unbeaten in 32 games and in the Euro 2020 semifinals ???????????? pic.twitter.com/9kEAI5TPNY
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) July 2, 2021
Maybe that’s one of the reasons that Roberto Mancini was appointed as head coach. The sartorially elegant manager has added flair and creativity not just to the touchline fashion stakes, but also on the pitch – turning the Azzurri into a delightful-to-watch attacking force.
For years, the Italian national team has been built around the principles of defensive football – a side effect of having world-class stoppers like Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci in the ranks.
Remember too that this is the nation that created the ‘catenaccio’ style of football – that literally translates as ‘door bolt’, which reflects the typical mindset of an Italian coach.
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But their results have not been what you would expect from a super-power, and a limp to the quarter-finals of Euro 2016 was followed by a complete failure to even qualify for the World Cup of 2018.
In came Mancini, and out went the defensive sensibilities to be replaced by something rather more progressive and dynamic. The result? Italy have embarked on a 32-game unbeaten run, prior to the Euro 2020 final that is, and faith has been restored in a nation that lives and breathes the beautiful game.
Following a summer of celebrations from Bari to Venice, attention will soon turn to another competition which the Italians have previously thrived in – the World Cup.
The Fifth Time is the Charm
Those with an eye for such things will note that Italy are priced at 14/1 to win the 2022 World Cup by the bookmakers.
Based on what has been witnessed at the European Championships, those odds look supreme value. The likes of Chiellini, Bonucci and Ciro Immobile may have retired from international football by then, but former AC Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, Nicolo Barella, Federico Chiesa and Manuel Locatelli will all be in their mid-20s still, while Marco Verratti and Leonardo Spinazzola will only be flirting with turning 30.
— Goal (@goal) July 3, 2021
The heat in Qatar won’t be a factor the Italians either, and their record in big-tournament football – and in the World Cup in particular – has to surely mark them out as one of the most likely winners in 2022.
You have to go back to the 1930s to find two of their quartet of World Cup victories, but Italy is a nation with major success in its blood, and the triumph of 2006 is still recent enough in the memory to be of relevance.
Whether they are crowned European champions or not, Mancini will be looking at the big picture – this generation of Italian players is ready to challenge for the World Cup once more. And they’ll do it in style, too.