EURO 2016 – Pessimism turns to Optimism as Italy Hit Top Gear

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“The worst Italian team for 50 years” is how journalists back in the peninsula described Antonio Conte’s Azzurri team ahead of the tournament. Now, after a superb opening round win against Belgium, many people think they can even go on to win the competition.


The fifth oldest team in France, Italy’s chances of lifting the European Championship trophy for the first time since 1968 looked slim as they headed out to their training base in Montpellier. Many observers (and the betting exchanges) thought that Head Coach Antonio Conte was just counting down the days until he joins Chelsea as their new manager next season. But an impressive 2-0 win in matchday one against one of the pre-tournament favourites Belgium has changed the mind-set of the whole country. The 46-year-old tactician went for experience over youth and it looks as though he’s made the right choice.


It’s always been a long held belief that if you take a formidable defensive partnership at club level and transfer it to the international scene you will always have a chance. In Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli, Conte has the players he brought together during his time in charge in Turin, playing at the top of their game for their country. Known as the BBC, all three of them were superb on Monday night in Lyon keeping out some of the best striking talent in Europe. Bonucci’s 50 metre pass onto the foot of Giaccherini for Italy’s opening goal summed up his performance perfectly and showed why Conte is so anxious to bring him to the Premier League next season.



Antonio Conte is a devotee of the 3-5-2 system, but on Monday he surprised everyone by selecting Lazio’s Antonio Candreva ahead of Roma’s Alessandro Florenzi in the attacking right-back role. His choice turned out to be one of the main reason’s Italy claimed victory, as the 29-year-old put a disappointing season at club level behind him to run the Belgian defence ragged. Even in the closing stages his energy levels defied belief and in a game full of heroic performances from an Italian point of view, his was probably the most heroic of all.


The Azzurri now has group E in their hands and next up is Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Sweden. Whilst it would be too early to get carried away with this performance, a country that seemed resigned to seeing their national team return home early for the summer holidays, are now looking further along the line, plotting their route to the latter stages of the competition. A country notorious for making slow starts to major tournaments has completely ripped up the form-book; but this is Italy of course, and in a country that suffocates itself with its own paranoia, you’re only ever one game away from a crisis.


Steve Mitchell @barafundler