In years gone by Italy have always been up there amongst the favourites in international tournaments. This, for the most part, has been down to the amount of world class talent that their squad boasted, rather than the weakness of the other international heavyweights. This time however, there aren’t many people that have selected Italy as their tournament winners.
People will wonder what has happened to the Italian national team and the answer is a simple one really- they don’t have the standout players that everyone is used to seeing and expecting from an Italian side. Past Italy teams have boasted world class players such as Franco Baresi, Roberto Baggio and Paolo Maldini. In recent times Francesco Totti, Fabio Cannavaro, Andrea Pirlo and Alessandro Del Piero have filled that role of standout, match winning players. You could even say to an extent that the likes of Christian Vieri, Gennaro Gattuso and Gianluca Zambrotta are part of this club.
These days it is a very different story. With the exception of legendary goalkeeper and captain Gianluigi Buffon and Daniele De Rossi, both of whom have over 100 caps for the Azzuri, Italy’s squad is the weakest it has been for some time. A combination of inexperience and a failure to light up the international stage means that Italy lie as the sixth favourites to win the tournament, behind France, Germany, Spain, England and Belgium respectively.
As well as international centurions Buffon and De Rossi, players such as Giorgio Chiellini (83 caps), Leonardo Bonucci (56 caps) and Andrea Barzagli (55 caps) also have decent amounts of experience on the international stage. With all of these being defensive players however, it’s clear to see that where the Italians are lacking is in the attacking berths.
With Mario Balotelli not being selected for the 23 man squad after being Italy’s top scorer in the two previous tournaments the question for Antonio Conte is ‘where are the goals going to come from’. Graziano Pellè of Southampton will be hoping to lead the line and has a decent record at international level with 5 goals in 12 games. With the other 5 attacking players/forwards named in the squad only scoring a measly 9 international goals between them, Pellè will be hoping he can score the goals to lead Italy to glory.
Despite all of this, the Italians are not to be written off. A strong qualification campaign leading up to the tournament saw them win their group with relative ease, finishing 4 points clear of second place Croatia. This is a reminder to everyone and even the Italians themselves that although they may not be the powerhouse they once were, they still have a very good chance at glory come July.
It remains to be seen if we’ve all written Italy off too early or if we were right to dismiss their chances before the tournament has even began. It also remains to be seen whether this squad of players will step up and become the new heroes for their country or if they’re there simply to make up the numbers.
By Callum Doughty, TFN Columnist on 05/06/2016 at 15:27