Have Italy ever been able to enter a major tournament without some sort of off-field interruption? If it’s not corruption you can bet it’s something else. This year is no different, as it has been revealed that coach Antonio Conte will be leaving his post with Italy to join Chelsea after this summer’s European Championships. Europe’s most successful nation may well sneak under the radar in many prediction polls with a strong youthful presence under their fiery coach.
How They Qualified: Italy topped their group to emerge victorious in a tricky pool containing the likes of Croatia, Norway and Bulgaria. They were short of goals as Southampton target man Graziano Pelle top scored with 3 but the Azzurri finished undefeated with 7 wins and 3 draws – no grounds for complaint there.
Tournament History: Winners, 1968.
Coach: Antonio Conte.
The Italian took the role in 2014 after a hat-trick of Serie A titles with Juventus. Questions were asked of Conte during qualification for employing a cautious 3-5-2 formation, but as the old saying goes, ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’. They may have appeared laborious at times in qualifiers, particularly so at home to Malta and Azerbaijan. However, it’s the results that matter and they came through 1-0 and 2-1 to those teams respectively, a trend that should have Mr Abramovic of South West London rubbing his hands together.
Nickname: Azzurri (Blues).
Key Man: Gianluigi Buffon.
The Juventus stopper has an undiminishing amount of influence over the Italy camp. He will be 38 this summer and has already announced his decision to retire after the next World Cup, hoping to emulate the great Dino Zoff by attending a World Cup at the age of 40. Having been a pivotal figure in one of World football’s most revered defence’s over the years, his wealth of experience in major tournaments will always provide a boost to the Azzurri’s chances. Furthermore, the value Buffon provides to this Italy team cannot be accounted for as without the Juventus stalwart it’s hard to find a world-class and respected leader among Italy’s ranks. Especially due to the fact Juventus’ Claudio Marchisio has been ruled out of Euro 2016 with serious injury and Andrea Pirlo’s decision to move to the MLS likely to rule him out of contention.
One To Watch: Domenico Berardi.
The lively left-footed Sassuolo forward, who scored four goals in a victory over Milan at the age of 19, has scored 33 times in Serie A since promotion to the top-flight in 2014. He has primarily been deployed on the right, cutting in on to his stronger foot but has also occasionally played through the middle. If Conte does indeed heed his critics’ words and opt for 4-3-3, the quick, strong, aggressive Italy U21 forward would be a perfect fit.
June 13, 3pm vs Belgium
June 17, 9am vs Sweden
June 22, 3pm vs Rep Ireland
Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Federico Marchetti (Lazio), Salvatore Sirigu (PSG).
Defence: Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Georgio Chiellini (Juventus), Matteo Darmian (Man Utd), Mattia De Sciglio (Milan), Angelo Ogbonna (West Ham), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus).
Midfield: Federico Bernardeschi (Fiorentina), Antonio Candreva (Lazio), Danielle De Rossi (Roma), El Shaarawy (Roma), Alessandro Florenzi (Roma), Emanuele Giaccherini (Bologna), Stefano Sturaro (Juventus), Thiago Motta (PSG), Marco Parolo (Lazio).
Attack: Eder (Inter), Ciro Immobile (Torino), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli), Graziano Pellè (Soouthampton), Simeone Zaza (Juventus).