It’s because she’s having trouble getting rid of her old demons, the Nazionale. On Saturday, Italy, long superior to North Macedonia, was caught at the end of the match in Skopje (1-1). Enough to recall the nightmare of the play-off for the 2022 World Cup, lost in added time against these same Macedonians (0-1). “Our kryptonite,” laments the Gazetta dello Sport. Here is Italy in an uncomfortable situation, as it hosts Ukraine this Tuesday at the San Siro stadium in Milan (8:45 p.m.) for the continuation of the Euro 2024 qualifiers.
Corriere della Sera brandishes “the risk that the team will be swallowed up by the abyss of fear”. The non-qualification for the 2018 World Cup was experienced as a tragedy. That at the 2022 World Cup was impossible, for a nation that has been quadruple global champion and which had previously only missed one edition, in 1958. Especially since the first affront had been washed away by a coronation at the Euro 2020. Everything is moving very quickly in football, and even more so at the Nazionale lately. The new coach, Luciano Spalletti, learned this the hard way.
Appointed to the bench on August 18, Spalletti replaced Roberto Mancini, whose departure for the Saudi selection left an entire country taken aback. “I was surprised, stunned,” said legendary coach Arrigo Sacchi. The federation is now rushing to pick up the pieces, because Italy has no margin for Euro 2024.
England leads Group C of the qualifiers with 13 points, ahead of Ukraine (7 pts), Italy (4), North Macedonia (4) and Malta (0). The Nazionale has a match behind the Ukrainians and the Macedonians and therefore keeps its destiny in its hands, with still five games to play for it, knowing that the first two in the group will qualify. “It’s already time to do the calculations in order to fend off the rising anxiety,” notes Corierre della Serra.
A defeat against Ukraine, which comes from an encouraging draw against England (1-1), would almost sound the death knell for the Italian quest for a direct ticket to the Euro. “Spalletti is going all out in Milan,” warns La Gazzetta. Let the Transalpines rest assured: everything is not really decided on Tuesday. By finishing 3rd in the group, Italy would move into the play-offs, thanks to its good results in the Nations League.
It would then have to win a semi-final and a final in a mini-tournament which could concern, in a good scenario, Poland and Wales, and in a bad one, big names like Croatia or the Netherlands. We must “avoid the other nightmare called the play-offs,” warns Gazzetta, traumatized by watching the World Cup on TV, twice in a row. The Italian press reports that Spalletti, who brought back the first league title to Naples since the Diego Maradona era, dwells on the psychological aspect of Tuesday's match.
On the pitch, unlike Ukraine's attacking midfielder Mykhaylo Mudryk, Italy cannot rely on its will-o'-the-wisps attackers, Federico Chiesa and Lorenzo Pellegrini, who are injured. Also missing will be winger Matteo Politano and defender Gianluca Mancini, starters in Macedonia. Spalletti should count on center forward Ciro Immobile, captain and opportunistic scorer in Skopje. It will also be necessary for Gianluigi Donnarumma, goalkeeper of PSG, to assume his status, he who faces criticism in Paris as in his country. The time when he was voted best player of Euro 2020, bringing the Boot back to the roof of Europe, seems a long way away.