Everything about the Italy Under-21 European Championship draw with Spain was absolutely infuriating. From the officiating to the pathetic attitude shown by the Azzurrini to the ludicrous play-acting of the Spaniards, all the way through to coach Paolo Nicolato declaring himself ‘satisfied’ with that shower some of us were forced to sit through on a Saturday night.
If you want to know why Italian teams are struggling in Europe, look no further than this game. There is a lot of talent in this side, even with some poached by the senior squad and Sandro Tonali getting himself sent off for a stamp – probably the only red card of the four in this tournament that was genuinely deserved. Being content with draws against the Czech Republic and Spain is a sign of how low our ambitions have fallen.
Roberto Mancini might be an attack-minded coach focused on quality, but he’s a lonely voice on the Calcio landscape, even within the FIGC. Nicolato was praised after this dire draw as a “calm presence” on the touchline, but if anything he’s catatonic, lulling players and fans to sleep with tactics aiming to neutralise rather than create. And yet he still has to insist on playing out from the back to ensure at least a couple of panic attacks for the fans each game.
Honestly, I have had it with this over-complication given to under-talented players. Not everyone should’ve tried to replicate tiki-taka, just as playing out from the back is an acquired taste and a specific skill. Short corners can also go in the same dustbin of football fashion, along with people lying down behind the wall for a free kick. Would it kill you to try doing some of the basics well before muddying the waters with this pointless poncing about?
The whole 90 minutes of the European Under-21 Championship tie were infuriating. Spanish players were constantly play-acting, going down clutching their faces when barely touched and arguing with the referee. It paid off for them with Gianluca Scamacca’s second yellow card for waving in the general direction of Oscar Mingueza. This is why I struggle to feel bad for Mingueza when he was sent off moments later for the most delicate skim of the forehead with Nicolò Rovella. Bizarrely, Rovella was also dismissed for the same incident, thus proving the referee was not biased, simply incompetent. Was Rovella given a yellow for his part in the ‘brawl’ or for the simulation, in which case why was Mingueza sent off? None of it made the slightest bit of sense.
Speaking of which, I hope the shocking decisions we’ve seen this week in both the World Cup qualifiers and the European Under-21 Championship can once and for all silence the moaners who want VAR reduced or even scrapped. You want the good old days back? Here, enjoy them in all their phantom goal glory, with tournaments won and lost on a moment of avoidable ineptitude. This is football in the dark ages officiating a match going into 2022.
Worst of all was sitting through the analysis on Italian television, with pundits declaring it a satisfactory draw, a strong performance, a good result in the circumstances. Our expectations have fallen so low in Italy, this is the problem. We can and should expect better. It was the same in the Champions League, even the wonderful Atalanta ended up contentedly going for a draw against Real Madrid, guaranteeing not only that they failed, but did so with a whimper. Calcio has lost all self-respect.