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Euro 2024: Italy under criticism and Luciano Spalletti’s future questioned after round of 16 defeat against Switzerland

video subtitles, Highlights: Switzerland – Italy 2:0

  • Author, Alex Bysouth
  • Role, Senior BBC sports journalist at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin

The defending champions have been eliminated from the 2024 European Championship and it would be putting it mildly to say that Italy was eliminated with a whimper.

Luciano Spalletti’s team suffered a clear 2-0 defeat against Switzerland in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, but could not even muster the resistance in the final phase that at least characterized the comeback draw against Croatia in the last group match.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a worse Italian team in my life,” former England striker Gary Lineker said on BBC One.

In 2006, Italy won its fourth World Cup at this venue, defeating France on penalties.

Three years ago, the Azzurri went to Wembley and crushed English dreams in another penalty shootout to win their third European title.

There are talented players in this squad, but – as their performance against Switzerland shows – they lack character. They do not have the artistry of Andrea Pirlo, the cunning of Marco Materazzi, or the fierce wit of Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini.

Of those who started the 2021 defeat to England, only goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, defender Giovanni di Lorenzo, midfielder Nicolo Barella and striker Federico Chiesa made it into Spalletti’s starting line-up for the lame exit in Berlin.

“From three years ago to now, it’s incredible,” added former England captain Alan Shearer.

“I was really shocked at how bad Italy were. They didn’t offer anything in any position, Switzerland played with them.

“They dominated the game and gave Italy no chance. They were so weak up front, they couldn’t offer anything in front of goal. There was no threat. They were so weak, especially in the striker positions.”

“Italy was chaotic”

Image source, Getty Images

Image description, Defending champion Italy won one of its four games at the 2024 European Championship

He was supposed to take a break and spend some time on his farm in Tuscany, but when Roberto Mancini resigned in August last year, he cut his sabbatical short to take over as manager of the national team.

In the stands in Berlin we saw Italian fans wearing Maradona shirts and Spalletti on the bench, but there was no sign of the intense attacking football that had made his Napoli team so entertaining last season.

“The team was timid in terms of the intensity of the game,” he said. “We didn’t do a good job and couldn’t maintain the high level of intensity.”

“If you can’t win the ball back, you have to give them space because we don’t have the pace at the back.”

Spalletti had just ten games before the tournament to turn around a team that had failed to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar, entering the tournament as runners-up behind England in qualifying.

But after four games at the 2024 European Championship and only one win against Albania and a late draw against Croatia, the tournament is over for Spalletti and Italy.

“They were almost chaotic,” said BBC expert Rio Ferdinand. “It’s as if they didn’t have an answer or solution for any scenario that occurred in the game today.”

“Spalletti will certainly be asked questions.”

And that was true. Immediately after the defeat, the 65-year-old was asked whether he believed he could remain in office as national coach.

“This is a natural question. You don’t need to feel guilty about asking me,” he said. “But that’s the crux of the matter. It doesn’t change anything for me.”

“I take responsibility for what happened. I chose the players and of course this is part of a process where I have to get to know the players.”

Image source, Getty Images

Image description, Spalletti’s coaching career began in 1993 at Empoli and spanned 11 clubs, including Roma, Inter and Napoli.

Spalletti lamented that he had spent little time with his team compared to other coaches at the tournament, that some players had been injured and even that Inter Milan won the title in April.

“Inter won Serie A and then I made sure it was a very professional, serious club because Simone Inzaghi continued to coach the team in a certain way,” he explained.

“I noticed how often Inter trained, but maybe subconsciously you’re not as committed when you’ve won the league so early.”

After suggesting that he had put his players under too much pressure in training before the tie against Croatia, he rested them this time and made six changes to his lineup.

“There was more than one reason for what happened tonight,” he added. “But when the pace is like that, when you don’t increase the pace and intensity, it becomes much harder to keep up and we were underperforming.”

After five months in charge at Naples, he was dissatisfied with his job. Naples ultras stole his beloved Fiat Panda and said they would only give it back to him if he left the club.

After this defeat, a Swiss journalist took the opportunity to make a witty remark that Switzerland was now the Ferrari and Italy a Fiat Panda.

“You have to accept everything,” said Spalletti. “Even rather tasteless innuendos like yours – you are obviously a wonderful exponent of sarcasm and you are right, what more can you say?”

“You did better than us, you were deserved winners and we will try to do better next time.”

The Ultras of Naples finally gave Spalletti back his steering wheel when he led them to their first title in 33 years, and this time too the veteran fears no question marks over his future in the national team.

“If you want to scare me, say ‘what now, what now?'” he added. “Since I decided to become a coach, I’ve been under pressure to make it this far since day one. I’m very relaxed when I try to compete at this level.”

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