Bertolini’s faith in youth tested following Italy’s heavy defeat against Sweden at Women’s World Cup

Italy need to get a point against South Africa in their final game after a late first half collapse saw Sweden record an easy victory. Having stuck with her younger stars, Milena Bertolini may pivot to experience in the final game.


Prior to the 2023 Women’s World Cup, there had been much call for the Italy Women’s National Team coach Milena Bertolini to show more faith in youth and move away from the old guard. Sweden’s ruthless 5-0 win in Italy‘s second Group G game will really test her resolve.

It was very exciting and surprising when the 16-year-old Giulia Dragoni and the 18-year-old Chiara Beccari were picked to start against Argentina, with Bertolini later pointing out that they are playing because they are good enough.

Both were impressive in the 1-0 victory and Bertolini stood by her word as she handed them both another start against Sweden at the Wellington Regional Stadium. After an incredible capitulation late in the first half, Bertolini might find herself resorting to experience.

Italy Women’s National Team players Giulia Dragoni and Barbara Bonansea in action against Sweden’s Filippa Angeldal at the 2023 Women’s World Cup. (@AzzurreFIGC)

Italy’s lapse in concentration brutally punished

It was no secret that the Sweden match was going to be the biggest test of the group stage for Italy. There was expectation that Bertolini would resort to a back three which would really be a back five without the ball.

Instead, she stuck to the same system used against Argentina with only one change, Valentina Giacinti making way for Sofia Cantore who played on the right wing, moving Barbara Bonansea to the middle. In the early exchanges, this fairly brave decision looked like it could be a smart one.

Italy were lively and found some joy down the right with Cantore, and Dragoni was looking very confident on the ball. Sweden soon started to move up the pitch and then with just five minutes of the half to go, the onslaught came. Italy transpired to concede two goals from corners and another after sloppy defending, and they were 3-0 down at half-time.

Any good work in the early stages had been undone and the entire team looked confused and frightened. Half-time was a blessing.

Bertolini with lots to ponder ahead of South Africa clash

Having conceded from yet another corner shortly into the second half, Bertolini opted to ring the changes and removed the 16-year-old Dragoni, although she stood by Beccari until the final 15 minutes. The introduction of Valentina Cernoia with 20 minutes to play suggested a desire for a more experienced head.

Italy Women’s National Team midfielder Manuela Giugliano reacts after a loss at the Women’s World Cup. (@Azzurri_en)

There was no way to salvage the game and Italy ended the match with a more experienced eleven on the pitch, but they still conceded a fifth late on.

The big question for Bertolini now is whether she sticks with the likes of Dragoni, Beccari and Cantore in the final game against South Africa, or whether she brings players like Cristiana Girelli, Valentina Giacinti and even Cernoia in from the start, if she’s really panicking.

Considering Italy only need a draw to progress, expect Bertolini to stick to this more youthful setup, but her commitment to it will have been tested after Sweden.


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