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Italy must be on the attack again to rally the 2022 World Cup

The 31,000 seats at the Renzo-Barbera stadium did not take long to find takers for the Italy-North Macedonia match on Thursday 24 March. That the Palermo enclosure is full for the first round of qualifying play-offs for the 2022 World Cup is a small event. Since the health crisis – and while the end of the gauges is scheduled for the 1er April in stadiums in Italy – no match was sold out. A welcome popular support and which will not be too much to carry a Nazionale in search of a second wind.

After his famous “magical nights” of June and July 2021 and its victory at the Euro, Italy did not manage to prolong the intoxication. His incredible unbeaten streak of 37 games without defeat ended in October against Spain (2-1) in the Nations League. Worse, Roberto Mancini’s players missed their direct trip to Qatar and the World Cup, beaten by more regular Swiss in the qualifiers.

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How did the reigning European champions come to go through this catch-up session? Indulgent, Alberto Zaccheroni puts forward the idea of ​​a predictable backlash. “Our national team must rediscover this desire to astonish its people, that, as at the Euro, all the starting or substitute players give their maximum, confides the Italian champion coach with AC Milan in 1999. Otherwise you become predictable. »

Serial naturalizations

But boiling down La Nazionale’s struggles to a simple post-title decompression obscures everything else. It’s a fact, Italy don’t have an incredible talent in attack, even less since Federico Chiesa warms up the bench in the infirmary. The absence of the Juventus player is “a blow for the whole of Italian football”, according to his teammate Giorgio Chiellini.

In the absence of the defense blaster from the last Euro, eyes full of hope are once again on Ciro Immobile. With unparalleled consistency with Lazio Rome for six years, the top scorer in the European championships in 2020 with 36 goals is struggling to be as effective in the national team. “I don’t understand why he doesn’t have the same performance”, concedes Zaccheroni, who nevertheless considers him “like a top striker”. “Perhaps he feels less confident, less important than at Lazio where he is captain and where he knows he is going to play every weekend…”, advances the technician.

Faced with this shortage of talent in attack, Roberto Mancini was given the urge to give yet another second chance to Mario Balotelli, whose versatile talent is now at Adana Demirspor in Turkey. On the gong, the coach preferred João Pedro, freshly naturalized Italian. The Brazilian-born striker, captain of Cagliari, is not the only one in this case since like him, Rafael Tolói (Atalanta) and Luiz Felipe (Lazio) joined the group modeled by Mancini during the past year.

A parameter which indicates that the transalpine staff does not hesitate to summon naturalized foreign players – who have been playing in Serie A for at least six years – to fill in the generational gaps. The process hardly enchants Alberto Zaccheroni. “It is not serious to have done that. The players of the Italy team must have been born here or have arrived very young. If everyone does this, we create a nation-wide transfer market and that makes no sense! »

The specter of 2018’s failure

Other voices were raised to protest against this process considered opportunist and short-termist. The fact remains that he comes to supplement a succession that is still too timid in attack in particular, but not only. Figures recently released by The Gazzetta dello Sport on the playing time of young Italian hopefuls aged under 21 express it: in Serie A, they represent only 4% of the total playing time.

As the deadline approaches from the base camp of Coverciano, the Italian equivalent of Clairefontaine, Roberto Mancini calls for calm and concentration. To remember, too, the beautiful game deployed in the eyes of the Old Continent. And, above all, not to think of the worst, of a potential second missed World Cup in a row after the failure of 2018.

Italian football has never known such humiliation and, in history, only Czechoslovakia (1976), Denmark (1992) and Greece (2004) have missed a World Cup after being king of Europe. A prospect that Marco Verratti does not want to experience, present in 2017 during the traumatic play-off lost against Sweden (1-0, 0-0). “Everything has changed since then. wanted to reassure the PSG community at a press conference. Mancini lifted us up as we were destroyed then took us to European Championship victory (…) We are a completely different team, with a completely different mentality. And we want to do everything to go to Qatar. »

Before thinking about the final phase, or even the second play-off which will take place with the winner of Portugal-Turkey, Zaccheroni warns: “It would be a mistake to think of anything other than North Macedonia because they are going to have the match of their lives. If they beat Italy, they will be heroes. La Nazionale will have to be focused from start to finish. This is the key. » Just don’t get the wrong door.

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