Italy's defender Leonardo Bonucci celebrates scoring a penalty shot
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Bowing out with pride restored…

July 3, 2016 - 11:43 am

We went into this tournament far removed from the talked of favourites or even dark horses. ‘The worst Italy squad for 50 years’ people were saying and on paper, it was far from cruel or misplaced. No recognised flair merchants in attack or midfield, a solid yet unspectacular qualification campaign and haphazard friendlies in the lead-up. Injuries to Veratti and Marchisio added to the woe. My own analysis was rather more positive. Mainly due to an understanding of Conte’s methods and the world class Juve rear-guard stalwarts. With a bit of luck we could win the group and if so, Conte’s superb ability to imbue in a squad a sense of togetherness, belief and immense work rate would gain momentum. The longer we remained in the tournament, the better we would become.

It was unfortunate how the draw worked out, yet I always prefer to lean towards eagerness to face the very best, not avoid them and coast towards the final. Champions want to be tested, not against Iceland, but against the strongest foes available. And they come no stronger than Germany, who for me, are the finest side on the planet. Its odd how the fortunes of Juve mirrored that of Italy, for finding Munich in the knock-out stages then Spain/Germany/France in the same path of the EUROs is remarkable! Still, as I wrote in March; if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.

The second round match with Spain was one of our finest performances for many years. Unfortunately we lost De Rossi and Motta, the two hugely experienced linchpins of the side. Added to the absence through injury of Candreva. Sturaro was shoehorned into the midfield, despite carrying a knee problem and Parolo moved to the middle. Other than which the side remained as it had been.

The cock sniffing, snot eating human lizard hybrid Joachim Low made the understandable decision to set his side out to close to mirror our own Juve-esque 3-5-2. With an emphasis on pushing back our wingers, denying them any time or space high up the field. For most of the first half hour, the sides cancelled each other out. Yes yes! Germany had the lionshare of possession, yet created little of note.

Italy finally sprang into life after a brilliantly timed Parolo tackle in our own half on 27 minutes. Suddenly we looked like a side up for the fight, pouring forward as the game threatened to open up. The little goblin forged a chance for Sturaro arriving from deep yet the ball went wide. And then it was the Germans turn to threaten…Florenzi losing the ball on the wing, yet charging back to make the clearance of the tournament, diving through the air, raising his foot to meet the shot to deny Muller the opener. That sequence epitomised the outstanding spirit of the side married to inconsistent quality on the ball.

We emerged from the tunnel far more adventurous after the break. Conte had clearly fired up the players and we had Germany on the back-foot until the momentum was lost, through a typically italian flurry of 3 yellow cards in a five minute spell of aggression and frustration. With legs beginning to tire, it was that man Gomez who began the move which led to the goal. A smart run from deep led to a deflected cross falling kindly for Ozil to power in for 1-0.

With the wind sucked from our sails, the players in blue sank. Germany smelt blood and went for the kill and a galactic class save from evergreen Buffon was all that denied Gomez from close range. Or was it Chiellini whose last ditch all or nothing tackle sent the ball goalward! Regardless, it was the finest save of the encounter. Pure Class.

Pelle wasted a great chance after we had recovered our balance and then out of nowhere, we were presented with an opportunity to level the tie from the spot. Boateng jumping high for a corner with his arms flailing for a clear handball. It was strange to see Big Leo step up, yet he scored with aplomb to a mighty chorus of azzurri fans the world over.

Both Pelle and De Sciglio forged chances to shoot on goal before the ref signalled the end of the 90 minutes. On the balance of play and chances, there was very little to choose between the two sides.

Extra time was a cagey affair. The Little Goblin was wrongly booked for simulation when clipped outside the box. And Neuer was saved by an atrocious decision from the ref who blew for a foul on the keeper after he had smashed the ball against the referee then took out an italian to recover from his error. It should have been a penalty. Such tiny margins often count in such tight encounters.

Before the final whistle, Zaza was brought into the fray with penalties in mind. The most topsy-turvy shootout in living memory ensued. Zaza attempted to clear the stadium after one of the most bizarre run-ups we will ever see. Pelle goaded Neuer then delivered a truly wretched pea roller towards the corner flag. Yet the Germans suffered similar horrors. Sudden Death loomed with the chance to win the match swapping kick by kick between the sides. Darmian stepped up at 5-5 and was saved. Hector made no such error…

 

Player Ratings

Buffon

Superb reflexes when it mattered and cruelly unlucky to see the winning penalty squirm below his arm. I hope to see him still between the sticks at the next world cup, yet he has lost the chance to add a european championship to his trophy cabinet. Still time to add a champions league title, maybe next term! 8

Barzagli

Outstanding performance from the 35 year old who ran hard, marked, covered, tackled, was never beaten. One of the true greats of any era. 9

Bonucci

Scored the equaliser, dominated the defence, pulled the team forward throughout. A warrior. Possibly the most complete centreback in the world game. 9

Chiellini

He enjoyed himself, fought with cunning and power whilst trying to get things moving higher up the field on several occasions. Indomitable. 9

Florenzi

Worked exceptionally hard, yet his distribution rarely matches his industry. How we missed Candreva…yet the Roma man gave his all and earned his stripes. 8

De Sciglio

If we didn’t have Sandro, I would be roaring for us to sign the youngster, for whom a great future beckons. Comfortable in both attacking and defensive phases of the game. I still hope we can sign him, yet that would mean Evra must depart, and the kid deserves to play regularly. 8

Parolo

Ran himself into the ground, did his best to pick out runners up top and displayed drive and pride in the shirt throughout. 8

Giaccherini

Very unlucky not to see his herculean efforts rewarded with a goal or assist. He was the little goblin of old. Speed, trickery, very direct, always wanting to make something happen, threw himself into the game as if he might never play again. 8

Sturaro

Injured, rageful yet played his part in a memorable performance from a patched up Italy. The experience will prove nourishing to his development. Never over-awed, fought like a trojan and was unlucky with his shot which flew wide. 7

Pelle

Brilliant link up play, atrocious penalty and failed to make the most of his one gilt edged chance. He has had a fine tournament. 7

Eder

The brazilian has grown on me game by game. Deceptively quick, cunning on the ball and loves to get stuck in. His effort deserved better. 8

We bow out of the tournament with our heads held high. No team deserved to win the match, with both sides creating equal chances and only the lottery of sudden death penalties proving the decisive factor. Italy were for me, the team of the EUROs, displaying drive, amazing spirit, unexpected quality, wondrous heart and huge pride in wearing the shirt and being part of something special. All the more special considering the across the board (myself included) condemnation of their chances.

Conte has earned my forgiveness. My respect and applause. For the manner of his undignified and disrespectful departure from our ranks has long loomed large and heavy in my heart whenever his name has cropped up. He still has much to learn from a tactical standpoint, for his tactics were exactly the same as when at Juve; there was no Plan B. Yet what he brings to the fore in spades is irrepressible and infectious demand for devotion to the cause. He kicks every ball, makes every tackle, roars at the players constantly as if he is out there as one of them. Our former capitano and Mister took time to scour the italian ranks, choose who he believed could fight the good fight until their last breath, and forged a team spirit unrivalled in the competition.

Will Conte prosper in the premier league? Its on a knife edge. The Chelsea squad turned against Mourinho, who is far craftier than Conte, yet comparisons can be drawn with ease vis-a-vis the My Way or No Way approach to man management, to the paternal control, to demanding they follow his every move. Even with the present Chelsea squad, it is frightening to ponder how powerful they could become if all goes well. Yet there is a certain Jose at Man United, already adding Ibrahimovic and the Armenian flair merchant to their ranks. My concern for Conte is what happens when everything – or even anything – goes wrong. It is then that we will find if he has learned anything, for tantrums and emotional outbursts will not got down well with the owner or fans if games are lost and they find themselves off the pace. I wish him success and am excited to see how his mega ego contends with the same of Jose and Pep! Expect plenty of fireworks and drama. Yet back to La Nazionale…

We were very unlucky. Matching the strongest side in the international game stride for stride, shot for shot and only the dangerously deranged could have watched that game as a German or Italian or neutral and believed either side clearly deserved the victory.

There will be no deep deliberation of what went wrong, no soul searching, for close to everything went so beautifully right. And the players involved should be greeted and heralded as heroes. For each and every one of them gave their all. We can ask no more than this.

Our juve phalanx at the back confirmed what I have known for many moons, namely that they are as good a defensive unit as the world has ever known or will ever know.

I salute Conte and the lads for delivering into my life such passion, such bliss, such agony, such pride.

A job very well done. Leaving me honoured to feel part of their tribe.

Forza Azzurri.

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  • Avatar
    Dar Black July 3, 2016 at 11:59 am

    German’s and penalties…. Still, first time they have missed a penalty (or 3) after 20+ consecutive scored in shoot-outs. Buffon fear factor. Don’t knock Iceland btw, may well do to France what they did to England.

    • thegutterpoet
      thegutterpoet July 3, 2016 at 12:27 pm

      Iceland are well organised, know each other’s game and physically powerful. They beat an unorganised, physically lame chopping and changing England. The French are less drilled in any perfectly set plan to meet the sum of their parts, yet they have far more quality than the english, and Italy and Germany are far above either of them.

      No intent to demean Iceland, and I elaborate to suggest that I want Italy to be locking horns with the Germs, Spain, Argentina as often as possible, for they seem the finest sides on the planet.

    • Avatar
      Martin Badger July 3, 2016 at 2:46 pm

      No, they won’t. Beating England is within the range of any side that can field 11 players, not so beating France.

      • Avatar
        Dar Black July 3, 2016 at 3:24 pm

        1st, you don’t know that – the game has not yet been played.
        2nd, the French defence is not great, neither have they have been awesome themselves. Iceland will be no pushovers for anyone.
        3rd, yes England were piss poor against Iceland, but we have been in decent form recently and as we outplayed and beat Wales in the group match (and did not lose to the other two teams), it’s clearly not true that any team can beat England. Although it’s a nice soundbite for you to use.

        • Avatar
          Martin Badger July 3, 2016 at 3:47 pm

          One of the reasons England NEVER accomplish anything in football – and their defeat v Iceland didn’t surprise me in the least, by the way – is that their fans refuse to accept how bad they are. They are always ready with excuses and the players are always ready to come out with the ‘next time’ rubbish. England are not in ‘decent form’ – their football is astoundingly primitive and lacking in basic skills. Rooney is the most overrated player in British football history but let him roll the ball over the the from three yards out in August or September and the meda will be bigging him up. Hodgson was, and always will be, an absolutely uselsss manager who has never won a thing and doesn’t have a clue. Come the next World Cup it will be exactly the same story because neither the team nor the fans ever learn a thing. One tournament success in their history and that was courtesy of a highly dodgy goal. Let’s wake up, shall we? The team is garbage.

          • Avatar
            Dar Black July 3, 2016 at 8:01 pm

            Damn it Iceland! First two goals are the ones you have been defending against fantastically so far…. But at least we were spared what could have been a really embarrassing scoreline.

          • Avatar
            grazie padoin July 3, 2016 at 8:12 pm

            they had no chance against this talented france with pogba commanding midfield and griezman in attack .

          • thegutterpoet
            thegutterpoet July 4, 2016 at 1:18 am

            Needlessly harsh words, yet I keep seeing more of this…especially from non-english folk since the BREXIT routine (though assume you are english mr badger?). It is as if there is encouragement to criticize the english, first the Leave voters, then the football team and all english fans and all english footballers…Leaving the political machinations aside other than smiling at the irony I have found in reading Mainland Europeans generalizing the english as right wing ignorant bigots without realizing they are demonstrating the same hostile racism they accuse the english of. Still, we live in times wherein people do not think about what they say, nor do they feel, they just rinse and repeat everything they are told. Critical thinking is a very rare commodity indeed…but the football…yes yes!

            All of my english brothers are fans of England as a national side. None of them were expecting England to dominate, it was more a mixture of hope/expectation to get through the group stage, hope that Hodgson stumbles across a winning formation and then see what happens. Many of them were deeply saddened by the failure to move past Iceland, yet none hugely surprised. Nobody I know put England among the favourites. Nor did the media. The defence was too haphazard, no consistent force in midfield, and too many options up top.

            I am closer to Italy than England in heart and passion when it comes to football…one of the main reasons for this is that I grew up in a small market town in Kent in the 80s where 99% of surnames were Johnson, Taylor, Brown or Smith. At my primary school there was but one obviously non anglo saxon surname, which was mine. So from an early age, as you find in small towns the world over, something different about a person, their colour, their name, makes noise. Not to the point of racism in my story, more a cocky, generally playful mocking when it came to world cups and european championships. So I embraced Italy, over England, when very young, played my own pals and enemies at their own game, fell in love with Juve (who provided a glamorous alternative to heading to Priestfield with a friend’s father to watch big Leo Fortune West and Iffy Onoura).

            I still enjoy watching England, or at least hope for their best, yet they have been unfortunate with the effects of the commercialization of the premier league. The mega riches have made players more celebrity than professional sportsman. What they do off the pitch is to some equally if not more important than what they do on the pitch. Money has diluted the purity of the sport. The huge focus and media attention has sucked out much of the grit, much of the zeal, which used to be a guiding light in our league and national side.

            During the 90s there was still real football been played and our squad for EURO 96 showed as much passion and pride as any side you will find elsewhere since or before. I thought we maintained a decent level of effort and pride in the world cup 98 and were put down more by crafty Simeone and the lottery of penalties to a quality Argie team. Did fairly well again in the 02 world cup, put down by a glittering Brazil side…(yet that tournament left a bad taste in the mouth. Italy were skanked by the officials, so blatantly that it seemed like the fix was in).

            Out on penalties to the Portuguese who reached the final in 04, then again to the damn Portuguese in the quarters of WC 06…

            I could go on, to illustrate that England have always been a decent side. Not one of the best yet close to always qualifying with ease and emerging from the group stage into the knock-out round.

            The english media has not given excuses, it has been scathing and extremely critical of management, players and even FA structure. As is always the case. It is far more negative in all coverage of the national side than positive. Even when we win there are mitigating circumstances!.

            England is a home of football, to many the world over. Its clubs are institutions of global renown. There are very few other countries where the game inspires such widespread passionate support and plays a part in every day for millions of people. Similar story in South America in some countries, yet not elsewhere.

            I agree that the present national side are too flashy, too accustomed to been pampered and celebrities than succeeding as footballers, yet I also believe that there are plenty of english players around who could be brought together to forge a team of hardened physical bite and team spirit. This requires a coach to be brave and despotic. Conte turned a collection of rather average players (with help from the world class Juve defence and GK) into very serious challengers for the Euros. He avoided primadonnas, flashy flair merchants and chose players who would be fit for duty on the front lines and keep fighting till their last breath. And that is precisely what he got.

            I prefer to stick with my own appreciation of Rooney down the years as well as that of Messi who valued the englishman very highly indeed and has said a few times how he would like to have played with Wayne as he has always wanted to play with the very best. That was a few years back admittedly, but I take more value from the opinion of one of the most special talents ever to emerge in the game, than a stranger who suggests any side able to field 11 players will beat england…

          • Avatar
            Martin Badger July 7, 2016 at 5:55 pm

            Did you expect Messi to say “Sure, Rooney is a joke. Only ever scores against utter minnows” Do footballers ever say that?’ Wake up! The truth is Rooney is a huge flop every time a major tournament comes round – too fat, too slow moving and too slow thinking. My words were not unnecessarily harsh at all- they were factual. England flopped badly in the 1950 World Cup – and have been doing it ever since, with the sole exception of `66. They were amazingly lucky then but that isn’t likely to happen again. In fact, after the gullible fools voted Brexit I doubt if England will get many favours from Europe in any area, be it football or anything else. France thrashed Iceland, which is what any halfway decent side would have done. Germany thrashed Slovakia, which is what any halfway decent side would have done. Of course, a halfway decent side would scarcely be managed by a pathetic old joker like Roy, would they?

    • Avatar
      ADP#10 July 4, 2016 at 7:20 am

      You were saying? Lolll jk.

  • Avatar
    Dar Black July 3, 2016 at 12:08 pm

    https://mobile.twitter.com/JosephCox/status/749358788373872643/video/1

    Will Zaza ever live this down?

    • thegutterpoet
      thegutterpoet July 3, 2016 at 12:24 pm

      Mental fortitude with Zaza sways a narrow path between ‘Im the King’ and ‘I will be the King’…There is no option of despondency, and I have no doubts that his confidence will be affected adversely. He will continue to batter, maim and maul, and plunder goals….wherever he finds himself.

  • Avatar
    Rocke Linez July 3, 2016 at 2:05 pm

    You wrote everything I want to say about Conte. The way he left us made me think a little less of him, but the way Italy performed in the Euros made me reminisce his first season with us, which I still think as pur best Scudetto ever.

    Him at Chelsea will certainly be interesting, I say if he can put the mind of his squad onto a single goal then there’s no stopping Chelsea from winning the Premiership, even with Mou and Pep around.

    Thanks for this brilliant piece Mr. Poet, looking forward for many more from you.

    Forza Azzurri
    Forza Juve

  • Avatar
    Rocke Linez July 3, 2016 at 2:07 pm

    You wrote everything I want to say about Conte. The way he left us made me think a little less of him, but the way Italy performed in the Euros made me reminisce his first season with us, which I still think as our best Scudetto ever.

    Him at Chelsea will certainly be interesting, I say if he can put the mind of his squad onto a single goal then there’s no stopping Chelsea from winning the Premiership, even with Mou and Pep around.

    Thanks for this brilliant piece Mr. Poet, looking forward for many more from you.

    Forza Azzurri
    Forza Juve

    • thegutterpoet
      thegutterpoet July 4, 2016 at 1:49 am

      Cheers Linez. Always a pleasure to see your name pop up and welcome words. And I may well agree on that first magical season which begun with Lichsteiner’s goal and ended by returning us to the top table of domestic dominance. After the 7th placed finishes, Secco led deterioration of the squad and calciopoli hangover, to go unbeaten and triumph in his first season was a marvelous achievement. I wish we could repeat those beautiful emotions rooted in hope and belief which grew stronger week by week as something extraordinary was happening…

  • Avatar
    Martin Badger July 3, 2016 at 2:45 pm

    Excellent performances from the Juve players and one or two others. Nothing in midfield and very little in attack, so impossible to win it. Yes, bow out with heads held high.

  • Avatar
    Jas July 3, 2016 at 4:59 pm

    The ratings are too modest lol :). The defense was as good as it gets, there is no words to describe BBC and Buffon. The rest of the team was really sub par, I’ve never seen Italy play so sloppy in my entire life. Countless times they just kept giving the ball away, putting more pressure on the defense consantly. Pelle was good but was not utilized, Eder was decent but just couldn’t position himself to cause damage. The midfield was so awful, they couldn’t put two balls together. No offense to anyone but in my opinion this is one of the least talented midfields/attackers italy has ever had. Maybe I am being overly critial but the defense played their hearts out just to keep the team in the game. The rest of the team was so awful, there was no creativity whats so ever. They made Germany look like Spain of 2012 lol.

    • thegutterpoet
      thegutterpoet July 4, 2016 at 1:25 am

      I think every player in blue played their hearts out, Jas, hence my ratings were so high. I do not think that Parolo, Florenzi, Sturaro and Giaccherini are of a particularly high level of technique, in fact I would say they are rather poor technically, and to judge them can only be done on their capability and effort. And Conte got each and every one of them playing to their maximum I believe.

      Indeed I couldn’t agree more that the midfield and attack was absent of any true class. Yet Conte had them playing in such a way that they topped their group (even allowing the third game for the second string to get some action), deservedly beat Spain and pushed the finest international side on the planet to extra time and sudden death penalties with nothing else to choose between the sides. So for me, this effort, this achievement, deserves praise.

      Had we had Marchisio, Veratti, De Rossi and Candreva to deploy against the Germans, I suspect the result would have been more favourable. Yet with zero recognized star beyond the CB and GK, I believe we fared very well indeed.

  • Avatar
    grazie padoin July 3, 2016 at 5:14 pm

    zaza shd be given -10.attempting nonsense that his talent don’t merit. Just hit the ball on target. Same for Pelle on penalty.

  • Avatar
    elisadallomo July 3, 2016 at 7:57 pm

    Thank you for this, poet. I’m heartbroken still but articles like this one remind me of what I should be focused on.

    This last game also reminded me of why I loved Conte…. but, also, why he frustrated me: the substitutions. Or lack thereof. Zaza 30 seconds from penalties is a bad idea… and not just in hindsight. Why not earlier? Why not make him play at least 20 mins?

    I also think that he lacks a Plan B, and hope that he’ll have figure it out the next time he joins the Azzurri, because I think and hope that he’ll be back.

    Euros are over for me but I hope Wales takes it.

  • Avatar
    Papilaya(John)™★★★ July 4, 2016 at 7:14 pm

    I wish i was here during before the euro and early into our 2015 2016 season… Wouldve had so much to brag about :p

    I will always be behind Contes back, despite his seemingly “cowardous” exit. Love the man.

    Dont know how many times italy have to do this before people realize that no matter what, italy arent a team to overlook.

    Although, i do agree, his attacking attacks have not changed one bit and his stubborness to his footballing philosophy is ever present, but he took italy far and had Verratti and Matchisio not been hit with injuries, it wouldve been a completely different story.