When it comes to potential winners of this summer’s European Championships there are probably few who think that Italy have a good chance of taking home the trophy. Although sides will be wary of coming up against the Azzurri it is unlikely that they have the depth and individual brilliance to be victorious.
They will go into the tournament in France as an outside bet to win at best. But is there any way they could cause what would be regarded as an upset? And who are the players who really need to perform this summer?
Antonio Conte may well have just delivered another Serie A scudetto for Juventus but with the Italian manager being Chelsea bound he would love dearly to add an international tournament triumph to his CV.
Italy qualified for France without losing a match and topped their group. But they never really looked world beaters and did not score many goals along the way – a problem that is unlikely to be solved in time for the European Championships.
Attack Lacking Bite
Southampton’s Pelle was given a go in qualification and although he has got on the scoresheet he has hardly looked like breaking goal scoring records. Roma’s El Sharaawy and Inter’s Eder have added little in attack and this could be a real problem for Italy in France. The one striker that could strike fear into opposing defenders is Mario Balotelli but Conte may not even include the eccentric forward in his squad.
Strong at the Back
Defensively Italy, as ever, look pretty sound. The Juventus BBC – Bonucci, Barzagli and Chiellini do a really good job of letting in as few goals as possible. And even when they falter they have the unbeatable Buffon to save the day. At the age of 38 this is probably his last major finals and he would love to add a European Championship medal to his collection.
If it wasn’t already hard enough for Italy, the news that Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Marco Verratti will miss the tournament due to a long standing hernia problem has been devastating. The Italian midfield will sorely miss his presence as he would have been fundamental to any success.
Who are they up Against?
Then there is the issue of the sides Italy will face. With the possibility of three going through from the group they will be fairly confident of making the knockout stage but the real trick will be to win the group to get the best draw in the next round.
Belgium are the first team they will face and not many would confidently predict an Italian victory. A draw here would be satisfactory knowing that the next fixture will be a make or break match against Sweden. A team containing Zlatan Ibrahimović is never to be discounted but Italy will expect a victory here to take them into a final match against the Republic of Ireland.
From there it really depends who they get in the round of 16. Coming up against someone like Portugal would probably mean the end of their involvement but with so many nations involved in the tournament this year they could get a lucky draw against a lesser side.
With their current squad it seems unlikely that Italy would get much further than the quarter finals but they have upset the form book before – getting all the way to the final in the last European Championships and winning the World Cup in 2006.
If Italy are to get anywhere near winning the tournament this summer they need everything to click perfectly for them and for things to go wrong for other sides. They may not let in many goals along the way but they probably won’t get many of their own either.
You can never discount an Italian side entirely when it comes to a major tournament but with other countries having much stronger squads it will definitely be a surprise if the Azzurri are victorious in France.