An underwhelming performance from the Italy Men’s National Team saw the reigning champions crash out of the 2024 European Championship at the Round of 16 stage to Switzerland, who defeated the Azzurri 2-0 at the Olympiastadion in Berlin. It could have been a much bigger margin of victory had it not been for captain Gianluigi Donnarumma.

After squeezing into the Euro 2024 knockout stages with a last-gasp equaliser against Croatia, coach Luciano Spalletti was clearly still looking for a tactical setup that he felt could take them further in the competition, but a raft of changes across the team made the Azzurri even more susceptible to a Swiss side with much more cohesion.

Of the sides that reached the Round of 16, only relative minnows Slovenia and Georgia have had fewer shots on target at Euro 2024 since the beginning of the groups. Donnarumma has also made more saves than any other goalkeeper. Despite the changes, though, Italy never looked like rectifying either of those failings and appeared a shadow of the side that lifted the trophy three years ago.

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Italy Men’s National Team defender Giovanni Di Lorenzo up against Switzerland’s Riccardo Rodriguez at Euro 2024. [@Azzurri_En]

Spalletti’s changes confuse fans and players

With the absence of suspended Riccardo Calafiori and fitness concerns over left-back Federico Dimarco, coach Luciano Spalletti was forced to reshuffle the defence, but few expected the widespread changes that would come and leave the Azzurri looking devoid of structure, confidence and quality.

Torino centre-back Alessandro Buongiorno had a solid and consistent Serie A campaign, yet in came the temperamentally-challenged liability of Gianluca Mancini, who was mostly to blame for the Swiss opener, while playing Matteo Darmian as an orthodox left-back nullified any threat down that flank.

Removing midfield controller Jorginho for the industrial Bryan Cristante told their Alpine neighbours that Italy feared their pace and overall energy and opting to give youngster Nicolo Fagioli his first competitive start would have been risky under any circumstances, but looked foolish having played just eight games for Juventus thanks to his gambling ban.

Similarly, Stephan El Shaarawy made his first appearance of the tournament, having not scored for Roma since March and Mattia Zaccagni, full of confidence after his equaliser against Croatia, was on the bench. Had the Giallorossi attacker wandered into the crowd to get himself some refreshments mid-game, few would have cared or noticed, such was his impact.

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Italy Men’s National Team midfielder Bryan Cristante at Euro 2024. [@Azzurri_En]

Donnarumma cannot save the Azzurri this time

Italy and Juventus legend Gianluigi Buffon has watched on from the sidelines as namesake Gianluigi Donnarumma has played a crucial role in their progress to the Round of 16. He made a record-equalling 11 saves during the group stages – also achieved by Buffon at the 2012 European Championship – and the Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper was quickly called upon in Berlin once more.

On 24 minutes, the former AC Milan shot-stopper made an impressive save to deny Breel Embolo when one-on-one and had Donnarumma not pulled off a fingertip save in first-half injury time, it would have been game over at half time for the Azzurri.

With Gianluca Mancini allowing Bologna midfielder Remo Freuler the freedom of Berlin to waltz into the box and score the opener, Donnarumma must have been wishing a 39-year-old Giorgio Chiellini was still available. The excellent ‘keeper could do little with the precise curling effort from Ruben Vargas that made it 2-0 a mere 27 seconds into the second half.

Gianluigi Donnarumma with the Italy Men’s National Team. (@Azzurri)

Switzerland end 31-year Azzurri curse

When Switzerland defeated Italy 1-0 in May 1993, few would have expected it to take three decades to overcome the Azzurri in a competitive fixture again, such has been their improvement during those years. However, in the 11 fixtures since that crucial World Cup qualifying campaign, they had drawn five times and suffered six defeats against the Italians.

With the spine of the Swiss team full of Serie A experience – Inter goalkeeper Yann Sommer, Ricardo Rodriguez of Torino, Freuler, Michel Aebischer and Dan Ndoye from Bologna – they knew all too well that this was not a vintage Italian team and victory was there for the taking.

They will face either England or Slovakia in the quarter-final, whilst Italy must assess what went wrong and begin planning for the 2026 World Cup qualification campaign.