Gianluigi Buffon couldn’t sit still. Chewing on his knee, he watched as Italy played with burned fingers. The president of the Italian Football Federation, Gabriele Gravina, also got up and went outside the box at the Baiarena.
Gianluca Scamacca was drifting and Luciano Spalletti was harassing him off the pitch. The attacking position prevented Italy from maintaining a strong position and Ukraine began to play through them. Federico Chiesa gets his hand back to the goal in defense and enters the field. But Italy recovered the ball and tried to play it wide, but the winger gave it away twice. He was exhausted, fouled the opponent off the ball and was awarded a free kick in a dangerous position.
Suddenly a cross came to the penalty area of Gianluigi Donnarumma; Italy captain Giovanni Di Lorenzo thought he had it covered. Di Lorenzo was under the impression that it belonged to Donnarumma. However, the ball went out in the six-yard box and Donnarumma knocked the ball away from Michailo Mudrić.
Anxiety increased. Italy stopped playing football. “That’s why I put on the older kids,” Spalletti said. Scamacca, Bryan Cristante and Matteo Darmian. He explained that the game is becoming more of a fight than a game. A measure of physical but also mental strength.
At the final stage, only Donnarma, Di Lorenzo, Cristante and Niccolò Barella will be able to experience the finals of Euro 2020. There was no Leonardo Bonucci or Giorgio Chiellini dominating the defence. No Marco Verratti could take the pressure off his shoulders and hide the ball from the Italian opposition.
This is a relatively new group.
David Fratesi, the hero of the reverse, missed a one-v-one in the first half. Radio Audizione Italia commentators thought he should have eaten Ukraine goalkeeper Anatoly Trubin, but when the pair played Inter in the Champions League against Benfica, Fratesi noticed how Trubin was spreading himself when he went off the line. That’s why he tried nutmeg.
However, Trubin – impressive whenever he faced Italy’s opposition – made the right adjustments and had everything Italy threw at him, such as Barella’s long-range strike and six corners that Italy won in the opening 20 minutes.
Despite Chisa’s passing through balls and his ability to occasionally get on the line and create scoring opportunities for Giacomo Raspadori, progress never came. The longer the game went on, the worse it got. It only takes one false step. Thankfully, Alessandro Buongiorno didn’t make one. The Torino centre-back was booked early on but he didn’t let it touch him and it was one of Italy’s best performances, especially as Ukraine piled on the pressure.
Cristante, on the other hand, is very close to getting his foot in. “It was a penalty,” Ukraine coach Sergei Rebrov said of Cristante’s 95th-minute tackle on Mudric. The Roma midfielder gestured for the ball and stopped. But it’s too late. Mudrick’s blurring speed made the event look like a space shot. Like other angles. But a camera behind the Chelsea winger suggested he jumped in anticipation of a collision and no contact was made.
“Cristante put his foot down by Mudric’s side. He doesn’t stop at it,” Spalletti said.
VAR didn’t spot a clear and obvious error and Italy breathed a sigh of relief. “Not going to the Euros would be a complete rejection,” said Francesco Acerbi, one of five Inter Milan players who are part of the national team before the match. “A lot of people were thinking about our failure,” Chisa said specifically. But we did it.
There was no schadenfreude in this part of Germany. However, there was speculation that the Italian could play in Spalletti’s image for longer than he did at Leverkusen. “But the recent and the importance of tonight is obviously always going to be tense for our game,” Spalletti said.
The event undoubtedly had a psychological impact on the game. This team continued to make life difficult for themselves in the second half. England have drawn Italy after some time at Wembley. North Macedonia scored twice in Rome, coming back from 3-0 down to 3-2. Ukraine could have sent Italy into another major tournament qualifier. How to explain? Some of it can be down to the quality of the opposition (England), the changes Spalletti makes, the nature of the game (3-0 at Olimpico) and the problems (last night).
The tension has been a factor throughout his coaching career. Spalletti and the FIGC need careful legal advice to determine whether they can release him from his Napoli contract. Italy took over in the middle of their qualifying campaign, having already lost to England in Naples. It was not realistic to beat the team then. The national team had to pick up the psychological baggage of missing out on the World Cup in Qatar, and he had to protect himself from media that threatened to miss out on another major tournament.
This was no easy task. Spalletti defied calls to drop Donnarman after a mistake in North Macedonia and made him captain instead. He was away from Chisa during the international breaks in September and October. Sandro Tonalin was banned for 10 months for betting on football and had a training session interrupted by the police.
Tonali was handed a 10-month ban approved by FIFA. The ban begins
In the grand scheme of things, it didn’t matter how Italy qualified. But there were still “beams of light” in Leverkusen. Federico DiMarco is interesting in the role of one of the most extreme reverse front-backs in international football and his position as a whole suggests that Italy have a successor to Leonardo Spinazzola. Raspadori continues to stake a quietly compelling claim to being Italy’s No.9 and is very Spalletti in style. Chiesa was Italy’s difference maker in the match, equaling his father’s (Enrico) goal for the national team.
The 0-0 draw in Ukraine left Italy fourth in the draw on December 2. “We are really happy,” Donnaramma said. “We are where we need to be. We’re back and we’re going there with ownership so it’s only right that we go into the competition next summer hoping to win it.
(Photo: Joris Verwijst/BSR Agency/Getty Images)