“Every single player in the squad has stressed how united this group is,” says Italy reporter Paolo Menicucci as he looks at the Azzurri’s chances of EURO 2020 success.
EURO2020.com’s Italy reporter Paolo Menicucci discusses how 22-year-old ‘veteran’ Gianluigi Donnarumma has filled Italy’s goalkeeping void, and the incredible togetherness of a squad now through to Sunday’s final.
Italy can do it all
The Azzurri play attacking possession-based football with three technically skilled midfielders – typically Marco Verratti, Jorginho (the real brain of the team) and Nicolò Barella – constantly moving the ball quickly. Their three forwards combine well and can always score great goals, as Federico Chiesa demonstrated against Austria and Spain, and Lorenzo Insigne against Belgium, to mention just a couple.
However, when required the Azzurri have also proved that they can form a solid blockade to protect goalkeeper Donnarumma, with veteran centre-backs Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci transforming into gladiators, capable of disposing of every ball that comes near the Azzurri box. The perfect combination of youth and experience.
The best goalkeeper?
I reckon Kevin De Bruyne is still thinking about his first-half shot against Italy in the quarter-final. The Belgium midfielder had directed the ball perfectly towards the far corner with a powerful, curling effort. He was primed to celebrate when, out of nowhere, the big hand of a diving Donnarumma appeared to turn his strike away.
At just 22, the ‘veteran’ keeper has already earned 32 caps for Italy and played 215 Serie A games with AC Milan. Is it possible to fill the void left by a certain Gianluigi Buffon? Yes, when you are Gianluigi 2.0.
The strength of the group
From day one, every single player in the squad has stressed how united this group is. “We don’t have players like Ronaldo or Lukaku,” said Bonucci. “Our star is the group.” The centre-back added that this is probably the best Italy squad he has been in – some claim considering he’s amassed over 100 caps.
It’s obvious that Roberto Mancini has done a terrific job. The players seem to enjoy every minute together and this is reflected on the pitch; each player is ready to help their team-mates, and those starting on the bench are always ready to contribute. “We’re never scared of making mistakes because we can always rely on our team-mates to give 100% and rescue us,” said defender Federico Acerbi. “This makes the difference.” It clearly does.
On the other hand…
Losing Leonardo Spinazzola was a terrible blow for Mancini. The left-back had been one of the tournament’s surprise packages; he was twice named Star of the Match. He appeared to be everywhere in the last-eight contest with Belgium until sustaining an Achilles injury which may rule him out for a long time.
In that match, within a few crucial second-half minutes, Spinazzola made a goal-line block from a close-range Romelu Lukaku attempt and then almost volleyed in at the other end. His incredible energy will be much missed by Italy, although Emerson looked a more than reliable replacement in the semi-final against Spain.