Italy’s ineffective possession leads to Women’s World Cup exit at hands of South Africa

Italy have been knocked out of the 2023 Women's World Cup despite only needing a draw against South Africa, as serious questions will start to be asked about Milena Bertolini's future as coach.

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The Italian Women’s National Team was dumped out of the 2023 Women’s World Cup with a defeat against South Africa which will leave major question marks about how Milena Bertolini approached the tournament, and her future in general at the helm.

It was always known that this would be a hard group for Italy Women to progress from, but having won the first game 1-0 against Argentina, they were in a serious position of strength in Group G.

That position was thrown away at Italy failed to learn from the negative aspects of their Argentina performance, playing a predictable and ineffective brand of football throughout all three matches.

Predictable Italy play with fire

Italy Women’s Valentina Giacinti battles with South Africa’s Bambanani Mbane. [@AzzurreFIGC]

Having stuck to her guns by keeping faith in youngsters like 16-year-old Giulia Dragoni and 18-year-old Chiara Beccari for all three group matches, there was a clear unwillingness from Bertolini to adapt to what was being learned during the tournament.

Dragoni and Beccari have certainly not been problem players for Italy, far from it, but it is uncommon for players of that age to start all three games in a World Cup group stage when the team overall is not performing. Valentina Giacinti was brought back in against South Africa in place of Sofia Cantore, whilst Cecilia Salvai dropped out for Benedetta Orsi.

The 23-year-old Sassuolo defender looked shaky in possession in the first half and that came to a head when, after an Arianna Caruso penalty put Italy 1-0 up, she played a pass back to Francesca Durante without looking and managed to score an awful own goal.

As has been the case all tournament long, Italy had a lot of the ball but were almost entirely ineffective with it. South Africa carried much more potency in the second half and took the lead through Hildah Magaia, making it 3-2.

To their credit, Italy responded quickly and Caruso got her second by deflecting in a Cristiana Girelli header from a corner. Both teams could not defend set pieces, at all. Italy had 63% possession during the game, but there was so little in the way of clear chances from open play to shout about, and that will be the prevailing memory of the tournament.

Girelli shock miss opens door for South Africa

Arianna Caruso scores a penalty for Italy Women at the Women’s World Cup. [@Azzurri_En]

Taking any allegiances away, this was a wonderfully chaotic World Cup fixture. The momentum was swinging constantly and at one point it seemed Italy were going to wrap up the game.

Great work from Cantore off of the bench led to Girelli just needing to slot the ball into an almost-open goal from around six yards. Instead, she did not catch the shot cleanly and Kaylin Swart was able to get across and pull off a great save.

That would have left South Africa needing two goals, but as it was, they carved a tired Azzurre side apart and grabbed a winner of their own through Thembi Kgatlana in the 92nd minute.

Italy cannot really have any complaints. South Africa may have had much less of the ball, but they were so much more potent than Italy. The Azzurre were predictable in possession and Bertolini seemed unable to alter that from the bench. You get the feeling that South Africa knew exactly what they were up against throughout the fixture.

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