AUTHOR: Lee Duffy
Italy have come a long way since their World Cup win in Germany in 2006, but unfortunately for them, they’ve gone backward instead of forwards. They have been unable to replicate the successes of teams past, failing to live up to expectations in major tournaments since then.
When you look at the Italy side that triumphed in the World Cup in 2006, the caliber of players that they had throughout the team were more than worthy of winning the World Cup. The likes of Buffon, Cannavaro, Grosso, Pirlo, Del Piero to name but a few, the quality of player simply isn’t there anymore.
The 2008 European Championships contained more or less the same side that won the World Cup but failed to produce the success of 2 years previously, after being knocked out on penalties by eventual winners Spain in the first knockout round.
Disastrous Defense of World Title
The 2010 World Cup in South Africa saw plenty of fresh faces in the Italy ranks, but they failed to make their mark on the tournament. After drawing their first 2 group games against New Zealand and Paraguay, the Azzurri needed to beat Slovakia in their final group game to progress to the knockout stages. Despite a late fightback, Italy was sent crashing out following a 3-2 defeat to the Slovakians. The cracks were well and truly showing in a once formidable footballing side.
Signs of Improvement at Euro 2012
Euro 2012 was the fresh start that Italian football needed, with a number of fresh faces being drafted into the squad in the hope of resurrecting the hopes of a nation after a disastrous few years. Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli was looking to make his mark on the international stage after a successful domestic campaign in England. Italy began with a 1-1 draw against world champions Spain, followed by another draw by the same scoreline against dark horses Croatia. The Azzurri then sealed qualification to the knockout stages with a 2-0 win against the Republic of Ireland, with Mario Balotelli grabbing his first goal at a major finals for his country.
The quarter-finals saw Italy draw 0-0 with England, with Cesare Prandelli’s side advancing 4-2 on penalties. A semi-final against Germany is what stood in the way of Italy and their third European championship final. It turned out to be the Mario Balotelli show, scoring two superb goals to seal a 2-1 win, sending Germany home and setting up a final with group opponents and World Champions Spain in Kiev.
It proved to be a step too far for Italy, as Spain showed no mercy and all of their class to win 4-0 on the night and collect their second consecutive European Championship. Although it was a heavy defeat, in the end, Italy showed a great improvement and gave them hope for the future.
Italy Falter in Brazil
The 2014 World Cup sent Italy back right to where they started, winning just one of their three group games, and exiting the tournament at the first hurdle. A win against England in the first game built up some optimism amongst the fans, but shock defeats to Costa Rica and Uruguay meant that Italy could only manage a third-place finish in the group.
Shootout Exit at Euro 2016
The Azzurri were once again in search of redemption heading into Euro 2016. A solid qualifying campaign set them up nicely to challenge the top sides and push for the European crown. Wins against Belgium and Sweden confirmed their place in the last 16 of the competition, despite a 1-0 defeat to the Republic of Ireland in the final group game. The last 16 saw yet another meeting of Italy and Spain, with the Italians gaining some revenge for their Euro 2012 final defeat. Goals from Giorgio Cheillini and Graziano Pelle were enough to secure a 2-1 win and set up a quarter-final with Germany. The Germans gained their own revenge on Italy, beating them on penalties after a tight 1-1 draw.
And now, after a below-par World Cup qualifying campaign, Italy has failed to qualify for a World Cup for the first time since 1958. It shows the decline of what was one of the most feared teams in the game and shows the amount of work required to get this once great side back to where it belongs.