Anyone who has watched an Azzurri season opener would tell you to keep your Prosecco on ice. Even in a normal year, the boys in blue tend to make their first September outing about as appetising as overcooked spaghetti. Their clash with Bosnia and Herzegovina in Florence was more limp and listless than even that implies.
It felt like a bit of a rabbit punch after all the good things we had seen - if you can still remember them - in the days before lockdown. Having been down on their luck, Club Italia had risen up to play some decent football and produce some good results. There was precious little to get excited about, however, in this Friday night fare.
In fairness, the starting XI was probably nobody’s idea of Roberto Mancini’s best. With the Jorginho-Marco Verratti axis missing, the red-white-and-green tiki-taka was left bereft of two of its main protagonists. What was dished up in their absence would have left you feeling cheated even if the government was paying half the bill.
What attacking play there was tended to come through Lorenzo Insigne, but he was well enough marshalled to make his influence minimal. Federico Chiesa made little impact in his home ground and Andrea Belotti received precious little service. Even Mr Goals - Ciro Immobile - struggled to do much to affect the outcome in his handful of minutes. If the night had a colour, it was probably beige.
There was an air of good fortune about both the goals - more so the Italian one. Edin Dzeko, of course, bit the hand that pays his wages with a nice finish after some confused action in the Azzurri penalty box. Only a kindly deflection, however, allowed Stefano Sensi - busy but not brilliant - to equalise.
It would be easy to jump to conclusions - many no doubt will - but Mancio has probably earned this false step. In a group containing the Netherlands and Poland, a home draw looks like compromising any chances of a Nations League group victory already. Surely, though, we will really judge him on proper qualification campaigns to come.
Although this competition was set up to avoid the meaningless friendly, this still had the feeling of one. Maybe it was the missing crowd - the bread at the table, as Leo Bonucci called them - that added to that sensation. Even the players on the sidelines, sharing a joke late in the first half, seemed to confirm the impression that this was not quite a match that really mattered. Judge us on more important games, was the message that appeared to be emanating from the stands.
There were alarm bells here, for sure, and they were the same old ones we have spoken of many times before. Against stubborn opponents with some skillful individuals, Italy have often struggled to break a side down and this was undoubtedly the case again. Imagination - for most of this encounter - was not on the menu.
But let’s hold fire on shooting down this Azzurri offering just yet. A lot of time has passed - an eternity in modern terms - but it is surely too soon to throw away all the progress they had made before our world was turned upside down by coronavirus. They deserve to be judged on future encounters rather than one misfiring outing which put their undefeated record at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in serious doubt.
Nowadays many tend to lurch from magnificent to miserable in the space of a couple of tweets but those of us who are longer in the tooth can take a wider view. The curtain rose on a pretty dull and desperate performance, but that is truly nothing new. Italy tend to reserve their better displays for when the opposition is more highly regarded. If they are as drab and disappointing in future group games, then there will be genuine cause for concern. But, for now, let’s blame it on September and hope for finer football to come.
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