A Italy – North Macedonia It would be, just a few years ago, a football match for sybarites (‘panenkitas’ in modern slang). A duel that the ‘Nazionale’ would face to settle accounts or show some of the new talents of ‘calcio’. Since March 24, 2022, it is a clash that generates chills from Turin to Calabria and that will be key again, this time so that the Italian team is in Euro 2024.
On the aforementioned day, the ‘azzurri’, trained by Roberto Mancini, they were left out of Qatar, their second consecutive World Cup failure. They will meet again with the rival whose name makes their necks tremble. The accounts come out on their own if Italy beats North Macedonia this Friday at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome (20:45) and does the same on Monday, 20th against Ukraine at the BayArena (20:45), where Rebrov’s team plays at home due to the invasion of Russia. Four points, due to the current coordinates, would also be enough.
The Nations secured the play-off
That is saying a lot for an agitated group that has already traveled through the nine hells in concentric circles that their compatriot Dante described in ‘Inferno’, the first part of the ‘Divine Comedy’. In no way does Italy imagine another elimination. With two games left, they are third in group C, led by England (16) and three points behind Ukraine (they have one more game). Macedonia has seven and Malta, bottom, has not added.
“Thanks to the fact that the team reached the final phase of the Nations League, it would go directly to the play-offs. For now, the rivals that appear on the road are Finland or Israel. They are not complicated, although neither was North Macedonia in its day, the team that eliminated them and against which they tied in Skopje in Spalletti’s debut (1-1 on September 9)”, analyzes The Spanish Newspaper Mario Gago, Spanish journalist based in Italy who collaborates, among other media, with ‘Onda Cero’.
Being left out of the biggest national team event in 2017 was something unaffordable for the Italians, winners of four World Cups (1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006) and two European Championships (1968 and 2020). The defeat against Sweden in the playoff condemned Italy to miss its first World Cup since 1958. The most incredible thing about this journey through the desert is that in the middle of it The Italian team was proclaimed champion of Euro 2020crown he still holds.
The crisis of Italian footballers
“Italy has a crisis of footballers. It was the ‘cover’ of the previous one Euro Cup, because the team worked well collectively, especially in the defensive aspect. It was still there Chiellini and Jorginho in its best version, in addition to Immobile either Chiesa“recalls Gago.
That was a ‘spin-off’ in the horror series for which Luciano Spalletti wants a new script. The last fires were Mancini’s escape to Saudi Arabia and the explosion of ‘Scommesse case’related to illegal betting, in full concentration for the matches against Malta and England. Tonali (Juventus) and Zaniolo (Aston Villa) immediately left the group.
The first was sentenced to 10 months without playing and the second is back with Italy, waiting to testify at the Prosecutor’s Office. Unlike Tonali and Fagioli (Juventus), sentenced to six months of inactivity, Zaniolo never admitted to gambling and said he only played blackjack and poker on sites he didn’t know were illegal.
The substitutes for the absent Immobile
Ciro Immobile will not be there for the matches that will decide whether Italy qualifies directly for the Euro Cup. Spalletti has left him out of the last calldespite the fact that at the beginning of September he was named captain of the national team, for being the player with the most appearances. He took over from Bonucci and Chiellini.
“Of course I follow him and congratulated him after the goal he scored in the Coppa, but I believed that there were others in better conditions,” defended the man who made Napoli champion of Italy 33 years later. The absence of the striker generates debate, especially if one takes into account that the Argentine Mateo Retegui was nationalized this year to have a ‘9’ of guarantees. A player who until this season had never played in Europe.
In fact, the Genoa striker is not on the latest list, where the offensive arguments are Domenico Berardi (five goals with Sassuolo), Gianluca Scamacca (five goals with Atalanta); the already named Zaniolo or a Federico Chiesa (four with Juventus) who has recovered part of the time lost after the torn cruciate ligament he suffered in 2022 and whose consequences have been dragging on.
Inter as a backbone
The absence of Immobile does not mean that Spalletti is going to gamble without senior men. He has called JorginhoArsenal midfielder who He had not worn the ‘azzurra’ shirt since the Nations semi-final that Italy lost against Spain. “He has always made me feel that I wanted to be part of this group. Now that he plays regularly we have decided to call him,” explained the national coach, whose work, due to its circumstances, is looked at with a magnifying glass.
“These years the level of defense has dropped, after Chiellini’s goodbye. Nobody has had that level. Bastoni is trying“says Mario Gago, a Spanish journalist in Italy, who believes that Italy can rebuild itself based on the central defender and other teammates at Inter, runners-up in Europe, such as Acerbi, Dimarco, Frattesi or Barella. That is the challenge of Spalletti, whom the entire country recognizes as a great coach.
Only someone with his character and script could take on a situation as complicated as the one that arose in the summer. In August, Roberto Mancini, who took over the reins of the ‘Azzurra’ after the Russia 2018 fiasco, He left the position in the middle of the classification and after the ‘final four’ of the Nations League. He did it to take over from Hervé Renard in the Saudi Arabia team, which will organize the 2034 World Cup.
Spalletti to cover Mancini’s escape
However, the coach responsible for the victory at Euro 2020 said he had submitted his resignation because Gabriele Gravia, president of the Italian Federation, “did not want me to stay. I just needed a sign to stop and it didn’t. “That’s how it’s been for months.” Mancini accepted a million-dollar offer and alleged that he left “the national team 25 days before the next game, not three.”
No matter how many excuses he piled up, the flight was the last straw for an Italy that was wounded and in transition to nowhere. “Being here in my presentation as a coach is an emotion that cannot be described. A dream that began a long time ago. When I was 11 years old, at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico I asked my mother to make me an Italian flag. to celebrate the 4-3 against Germany. Now, I will bring this Italian flag back to the field when I go to the bench,” he said in a presentation that was what the country needed.
Spalleti signed until 2026, avoiding a clause that Naples had imposed on him after his departure that prevented him from signing for a team this season. Too much time for a position that he puts into play every game. He made his debut against North Macedonia with a draw which allowed Ukraine to overtake them in the group. An error by Donnarumma, PSG goalkeeper, whom he defends tooth and nail, was the cause of the first drama.
“Scared? We will get through it together”
“Against Ukraine there was another level of inspiration in attack and Frattesi played a magnificent game (he scored a decisive double in the final 2-1),” recalls Mario Gago, a Spanish journalist in Italy. However, in the third match, against England, the ‘Azzurra’ suffered a reality check when they fell 3-1. against the best European team along with France.
“In front of England I saw many rays of light and I did not encounter such intense darkness. Normally defeats are usually erased, but I saw many things that were done well,” said Spalletti at the press conference for this decisive window. With his usual serenity, but without taking away even an ounce of seriousness from what is coming.
“Scared? We will get through it together”, concluded the Tuscan coach, ready to give his life in the attempt. “Without top footballers, Italy is recovering under his command. It is a great motivator and you have to trust. There is plenty of quality to beat North Macedonia and Ukraine,” says Mario Gago, a journalist in a country that longs to experience football like in the past, where the mere possibility of being out of a European Championship was a ‘Divine Comedy’.