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Italy Looks to Defend Their Euro Championship Crown This Summer

Title holders Italy will begin the defense of their crown when the European Championship kicks off in June. The Azzurri have crowned champions for the second time in their history three years ago, after seeing off host team and heavy favorites England on penalty shootouts. Italy’s route to Wembley was quite impressive, beating Belgium in the Quarter-finals and Spain in the semifinals.

However, Italy have been unable to replicate their championship form ever since, losing the Finalissima to Argentina and also failing to clinch World Cup qualification after a 1-0 loss to North Macedonia in the playoffs. Failure to qualify for Qatar meant the Italians had to endure a second straight absence from the World Cup

The Azzurri have since bounced back to winning ways under new head coach Luciano Spalletti, who made himself available for the job after Roberto Mancini’s surprise resignation was announced in August 2023. Since taking on the job last year, Spalletti has recorded only one loss, a 3-1 defeat to England last October.

As the defending champions and one of the best-performing teams in Euro tournaments, Italy tickets are selling out fast. Here, we take a deep dive into Italy’s quest for consecutive European Championships.

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The Spalletti Era’s First Real Test

Spalletti may have led Italy to a successful Euro qualifiers campaign, but the job will only get more difficult for the 65-year-old veteran coach in Germany as Italy find themselves in a tough group. The former Napoli boss will be wary of the Euro championship curse that has befallen title holders over the years, hoping that history doesn’t repeat itself.

Italy's Spalletti Era
Spalletti Era, Photo Credits: Italia FIGC

Italy will play against two heavyweights Spain and Croatia in the group stage. Should the Azzurri make it out on top, they will face one of the best third-placed teams in the RO16. If Italy ends up as runners-up in Group B, they will face the winners of Group A, which could be the hosts Germany or Switzerland. Finishing the group stage as one of the “best losers” could pit them against potential group leaders like Portugal and Belgium.

Spalletti’s men begin their campaign against Albania on June 15, and a convincing win could serve as a confidence boost when they face Nations League title holders Spain and a Croatian team that has made it to at least the semi-finals in two of their last three competitive tournaments.

While the path to a second consecutive title looks difficult, Italy is not a team to count out. The defending champions have fond memories of playing on German soil, reaching the semi-final of the 1988 European Championship, and winning the FIFA World Cup in 2006.

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Italy’s Predicted Lineup for Euro 2024

Although Spalletti experimented with a three-man backline in Italy’s most recent friendlies, he will likely stick to a 4-3-3 formation this summer. This style of play allows Italy to dominate the midfield, which is where their strength lies.

Gianluigi Donnarumma is expected to remain as the starting goalkeeper for Italy. He was a vital piece in Italy’s championship-winning squad, where he won Player of the Tournament. The then 22-year-old goalie also went on to win the Yashin Trophy, an honor awarded by France Football to the best-performing goalkeeper in a calendar year. Donnarumma has been criticized recently for his positioning and ability to defend crosses, but Italy’s captain is still among the best goalkeepers in the world.

The PSG No. 1 will enjoy the defensive support of Giovanni Di Lorenzo on the right wing. The Napoli skipper is widely regarded as one of the best defensive wingbacks in the history of Italian football, and his playing style has been compared to 2006 World Cup winner Gianluca Zambrotta. On the left, Spalletti will be able to utilize Federico Dimarco, a Roberto Carlos-type player with incredible shot ability. The 26-year-old’s ability to turn defense into offense has been evident all season long, and critics have continued to praise his ability to play both on the right and left sides of the pitch.

Alessandro Bastoni and Roma’s beloved center-back Gianluca Mancini will complete Italy’s back four. Bastoni is one of the most sought-after defenders in Europe, with English clubs Chelsea and Manchester United rumored to be interested in the 25-year-old. Mancini, on the other hand, has continued to make headlines for his excellent defensive display in the Serie A. His heading ability also makes him a threat to the opposition from set-pieces.

Spalletti is expected to utilize a midfield trio of Nicolò Barella, Nicolò Zaniolo, and Jorginho. Barella is widely considered the brightest star in Italy’s midfield and models his game after Francesco Totti. His ability to establish composure and his defensive prowess makes him a valuable asset at the center of the field. Zaniolo will be Italy’s Gennaro Gattuso this year thanks to his ability to exert physicality. Like Gattuso, the Aston Villa No. 22 is not afraid to make timely tackles and will help to strengthen an already solid Italian defense. Lorenzo Pellegrini, who has been pivotal to Roma’s midfield dominance this season and can play the 10 for Italy at the Euros, might be utilized on the bench.

Jorginho is arguably the most creative player on the squad and will be tasked with bringing balance to Italy’s midfield. Despite the lack of playing time under Mikel Arteta, the 32-year-old remains one of the finest playmakers in the world and his adept off-ball movement can help create space for Italy’s offense to exploit.

Italy’s problems at the Euros will likely come from the attacking side of the pitch, with Spalletti lacking a solid and reliable No. 9. Nevertheless, he can still count on either Ciro Immobile, Mateo Retegui, Federico Chiesa, and Giacomo Raspadori, or Gianluca Scamacca to come through in this position. Immobile was the Azzurri’s starting striker at Euro 2021, but with just seven Serie A goals this season for Lazio, the 34-year-old may not be the most reliable go-to option. Retegui, Raspadori, and Chiesa could be Spalletti’s preferred picks but nothing appears certain from the looks of it.

Times of Sports
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