Friday June 1 2018
Azzurri growing pains

There are choppy seas ahead, but Italy should focus on the positives and move in the right direction after defeat to France, writes Giancarlo Rinaldi.

As challenges go, this was like graduating from dipping your toes in the kiddies’ pool to swimming with sharks. With the greatest of respect to Saudi Arabia, their ambitions at the upcoming World Cup are a lot less lofty than those of France. Yet the Azzurri went toe-to-toe with one of the would-be winners of that competition and just about came out alive.

Make no mistake, there was a gulf in class that was evident, but that was always likely with the young and inexperienced line-up Roberto Mancini selected. The power of Didier Deschamps’ side - particularly in their searing counter-attacks - was terrifying at times. But every judgment must be measured against the depths to which the Italian national team had sunk. Even one small step towards the level of their opponents would feel like a giant leap right now.

No defeat is ever pleasant, of course, but it is surely better to throw fresher faces into the mix right now and test their abilities. The new boss showed he was willing to take that risk and he got a mixed bag of answers. Some of the next generation looked ready for the fight, others perhaps need a few more rounds of sparring.

Firmly in the promoted section was Fiorentina’s Federico Chiesa. He crackled with energy and enterprise throughout the game and demonstrated that he was willing to show no respect for the reputations of his more illustrious opponents. It is an attitude that needs to be transmitted throughout the team if they hope to rise up the global game again, but the Viola man already possesses it in abundance. He might not have guaranteed himself a starting spot in this new Nazionale, but he certainly has to be one of the first names in the squad for the foreseeable future.

Mattia Caldara also seemed to confirm his good form with Atalanta in a decent pairing with skipper Leo Bonucci. With Alessio Romagnoli also coming along nicely - as he showed against Saudi Arabia - the central defensive positions look pretty well covered. It is a shame the same could not be said on the flanks.

That is where - to these weary old football-watcher’s eyes anyway - the biggest alarm bells have been ringing over the past few days. None of the options explored at right and left back looked particularly convincing. Be it Mattia De Sciglio, Davide Zappacosta, Mimmo Criscito or Danilo D’Ambrosio, they all showed their shortcomings. The first two, at least, have age on their side, but none looked all that promising as a long-term option. Some might be tempted to hurry Davide Calabria along at Milan or stick with the tried and tested Alessandro Florenzi going forward.

It was a tough shift on Friday night too for the other new boys. Domenico Berardi showed odd flashes while Rolando Mandragora drew the short straw of trying to handle one of the best midfields in the world right now. Along with the also relatively untested Lorenzo Pellegrini they got over-run at times, but stuck to their task. You got the feeling, at least, that their time might come - even if it might not be right now.

And what about the recently returned to the fold Super Mario? Well, he did play a part in the Italy goal with a powerful free-kick that Hugo Lloris could only parry out to the waiting Bonucci. If you combine that with the strike he delivered against Saudi Arabia, he has already more than justified his call-up from Mancini and made many question why he was left out in the cold quite so long.

It also sends a message out to the bozos with banners who seem to like to follow him around and question his credentials to play for his country. The Azzurri - like Les Bleus - should be an inclusive outfit, not throw up barriers through ignorance or prejudice.

Moral lessons aside, this was a steep learning curve for Italy which is likely to continue for some time to come. New faces will rise and fall and some more established performers will return. The new Coach said he did not have a magic wand to fix things overnight and that much was evident in his second outing in Nice.

The doubters can dwell in gloom and talk of terminal decline but - to my mind anyway - it is too early, and frankly unproductive, to go down that road. There were enough splinters of hope in this performance for us to cling on to and hope to survive and rebuild. There will be choppy seas ahead, for sure, but at least the sun is on the horizon and we appear to be heading in a better direction.

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Have your say...
Brilliant moving forward - France have played together for 4 years and at youth. They are contenters to win WC, that was our first game together in time we will gel. We have talent in abundance and young too... we need to sort out the wingbacks... De Sciglio Criscito Zappacosta aren't starters and hopefully Sweden was the last game Darmian played for us.
on the 2nd June, 2018 at 10:57am
Pool of U24's

GK - Donnarumma 19 Meret 21 Scuffet 22 Ardero 21 Plizzari 18
CB - Caldara 24 Romagnoli 23 Rugani 23 Romagna 20
WB - Emerson 23 Conti 23 Calabria 21 Dimarco 20 Adjapong 20
MF - Barella 21 Pellegrini 21 Locatelli 20 Mandrogora 20 Crystante 23 Gagliardini 24
WF - Chiesa 20 Berardi 23 Bernedeschi 24 Orsolini 20
CF - Pellegri 17 Kean 17 Cutrone 20 Belotti 24

+ Perin Bonucci Florenzi Veratti Jorginho Bonaventura Insigne Balotelli

Future looks good - just need time to Gel
on the 2nd June, 2018 at 10:55am
Iam 100 percent sure that Mancini is the right man with the right approach to steer Azzurri forward,He was brave in fielding youngsters in this match against France and in guys like Chiesa, Caldara,Romagnoli we have future stars
on the 2nd June, 2018 at 10:48am
Agreed with what Mancini said post match. This was not a dire performance but poor passing errors must stop immediately. Poor marking from Bonucci 1st goal, a dubious pen, wasnt it? and terrible Jorge error just like zapas v SA. these mistakes must simply stop and so must the wasteful passing. But so far im happy with Mancini giving new names a go against top teams.

1 comment they only seemed to start playing together after the goal. There needs to be that grinta from when the whistle blows.
on the 2nd June, 2018 at 10:40am
with lack of talents its not an easy task at all, we saw in the two games that not too many chances created, jorginho was the only spark on midfield, on defense italy need better LB,RB.

upfront we still have the best options.

i think its a difficult task for Mancini and it will take time.
on the 2nd June, 2018 at 10:24am
I think Mancini has the right approach to reconstruct Italy. Things will get better soon as we start getting a few leaders in the team !! Chiesa is strong and willing to run at defences ! I think when we put out our best 11 we would be able to match some strong teams ! Mancini will play young players but must find the talent to unlock the tight games which will follow for the Azzurri
on the 2nd June, 2018 at 9:33am
Mancini has to engender an attractive attacking style which will ultimately entertain and excite. Forget playing percentages; that time has gone and failed to deliver in recent tragic times. After all, we’re at such a low ebb, we have nothing to lose. I certainly don’t want to go through what we are going through again. I haven’t felt this depressed since England made the semis at Italia 90.
on the 2nd June, 2018 at 8:37am
Let's face it, anything is better than the rubbish we saw against Sweden. Italy created good chances and were pressing for an equaliser. Yes, we got picked off but I see green shoots of recovery. The question is whether we will be a credible force or just a bit player? At this stage this is largely irrelevant as the style of football is paramount.
on the 2nd June, 2018 at 8:37am
The fullbacks are a problem but the real hole is in midfield as usual. No better than "industrious" at best at that won't be good enough. I don't care how overrated people think Verratti is but he's a level above anyone other Italian mid, so better hope he integrates well and stays fit.
on the 2nd June, 2018 at 7:32am
Those who thought Saudi Arabia match was a turning point... should watch Italy play a nation that actually play football like last nights game.
Highlighted the lack of goals from our world class striker and the lack of talent for Mancini to choose from.
More embarrassment more shame and more to laugh at.
But of course this team needs time to gel, Balotelli needs to find his footing i mean last nights game is his first tough game in 4 years and 'shockingly' he didnt score, surprised? Im not!
on the 2nd June, 2018 at 7:03am
Long and arduous road ahead but good to see the younger lads getting a run against top class opponents.
Mistakes will be made and are a natural part of the learning and building process...even Jorginho who rarely loses the ball for Napoli has made some very uncharacteristic errors in his 1st few games for the national team!
I'm cautiously optimistic that Mancini is on the right path here...the game against Holland will be interesting
on the 2nd June, 2018 at 5:06am
So weird seeing Azzurri basically having maybe really only 3-4 players worth being called up and wearing the 4⭐️ shirt. Long gone are days of entire starting 11 being world class/ known players...+ even the bench had amazing talent,Hell there were great players who couldn’t even get called up cuz there just wasn’t enuff room. Enrico Chiesa is one of these players. now his son (nowhere near the scoring machine dad was) is on team.
Starting to see why we didn’t qualify. Glad Mancini is here forza.
on the 2nd June, 2018 at 2:34am
well well
on the 2nd June, 2018 at 2:00am
Not a bad game..... I agree with some of the points in this article. Its going to take a little time and experimenting with players. We need patience!! Also, the coaches need look abroad to players who may want to play for Italy. Start working on those Visa's....Forza Azzuri
on the 2nd June, 2018 at 1:46am
Midfield is still weak.
on the 2nd June, 2018 at 1:19am

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