April 11, 2024
Euro 2020: Azzurri's victory over England caps Italian football's "renaissance"

Euro 2020: Azzurri’s victory over England caps Italian football’s “renaissance”

At the time, that 1-0 Nations League group stage defeat by Portugal certainly wouldn’t have felt like a turning point in the Azzurri’s history, but it sparked what is now a 34-game unbeaten run, just one behind the all-time international record jointly held by Brazil and Spain.

The man that has been at the helm for these three remarkable years is Roberto Mancini, who took over Italy’s head coach role after it failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, only the second time that had happened in the nation’s history.

Though Italy has certainly moved on from the rigid defensive style the national team has become synonymous with over the years, the president of Italian Football Federation, Gabriele Gravina, called the team’s success at Euro 2020 an “expression of renaissance,” rather than a total revolution.

In veteran defenders Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci — one of the greatest defensive pairings of their generation — many of those classic Italian qualities live on, but at Euro 2020 Italy has proven itself capable of playing a much more attacking and exciting brand of football.

The 34-year-old Bonucci, who was immense for Italy in the final and rightly earned the man of the match award, is the oldest player to score in a Euro final.

Chiellini hauling back Bukayo Saka by his shirt collar as the England forward threatened to break clear also demonstrated that defensive ruthlessness — though Italian fans would perhaps use the word wily — was also key to the Azzurri’s Euro 2020 success.

Knowing Saka was too far from goal to be shown a red card, the 36-year-old Chiellini prevented what would have been a dangerous England attack deep into extra-time.

It’s the kind of know-how that only comes with experience, something England’s young squad learned the hard way on Sunday.

Leonardo Bonucci and Roberto Mancini celebrate during national team's open-top bus parade in Rome.

The boundless energy of the likes of Leonardo Spinazzola, who unfortunately succumbed to an Achilles injury in the quarterfinals, and Manuel Locatelli immediately made Italy one of the most feared teams at Euro 2020.

Italy also boasts an exciting group of talented youngsters, headed up by Federico Chiesa and player of the tournament Gianluigi Donnarumma, which will give Azzurri fans hope that this team can continue to compete for major international trophies for the foreseeable future.

New Bayern Munich coach Julian Nagelsmann is a huge fan of Chiesa, telling Bild am Sonntag that the Juventus star embodies “incredible verve and dynamism.”

In his Euro 2020 squad, Mancini seemed to find the perfect balance between veteran experience and youthful exuberance, with young stars such as Locatelli, Alessandro Bastoni, Nicolo Barella and Matteo Pessina already proving they can handle the pressure on the biggest stage.

“The great beauty shown from the Italian players: it’s not only the game but also friendship and hope that this will inspire our sector and reform the Italian football,” Gravina said.

“A great beauty, expression of renaissance and sportive humanism to which the federation deeply care about.

“This national team fights, exults and rejoices, it’s everyone’s team and driven from true feelings. I cannot and don’t want to forget any single person who built this path to this moment.

“Thank you Azzurri, we are even more happy and proud to be Italian.”

Giorgio Chiellini drags Bukayo Saka after being turned by the England forward.
In Italy, much of the praise for the rejuvenation of the team has been heaped on Mancini. Newspaper Tuttosport thanked the head coach, calling him a “magnificent visionary.”

“Mancini … the re-builder of a national team that dissolved on the cursed night of November 13, 2017,” the paper wrote, referencing the night Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup. “Rebuilt by Mancini in three years.

“Mancini, who changed the mentality, the game, the perspective of an Italy that is madly beautiful and therefore unique. Mancini, who on the first day as coach said: ‘I will take you to the final and we will win it.'”

Tuttosport couldn’t resist at dig at England, too, with Italians seemingly taking plenty of joy from beating Gareth Southagte’s side on home soil at Wembley Stadium.

“Respectfully speaking, the Azzurri have taught a lesson to the masters who invented football, but for fifty-five years they have tried in vain to show that they still know how to teach it,” it said.

“Taught a lesson” may be a bit exaggerated given the match finished as a draw after 120 minutes, but it shows the sense pride the nation took from coming to lift the Henri Delaunay Trophy.

Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne celebrate with the Euro 2020 trophy.

Instead of “football coming home,” football went back to Rome.

On Monday, the national team were welcomed by Italian president Sergio Mattarella and then prime minister Mario Draghi, before taking the trophy on an open-top bus parade around Rome in front of thousands of fans.

“Football has come home!” Corriere dello Sport wrote triumphantly. “To ours, though.

“The last ball made its way to Italy … we are European Champions, again, and after 53 years,” added Corriere dello Sport, referring to Italy’s 1968 European Championship triumph.

Stefania Dall’Armi contributed to this report.