Three years after triumphing at the European Championship, the Italy Men’s National Team produced a more-than-disappointing defence of their title at Euro 2024, suffering an ignominious elimination in the Round of 16.

The 2-0 defeat to Switzerland put an end to the Azzurri‘s dismal tournament, but the cracks were appearing long before a ball was kicked in Germany. After failing to qualify for the 2022 and 2018 (Men’s) World Cups, there was a chance to change things, but issues with the playing personnel amongst other things were not properly addressed.

La Gazzetta dello Sport gave a list of events after the Euro 2020 victory, which lead to the shock elimination against North Macedonia in March 2022, and the lack of significant progress since, eventually resulting in the loss to the Swiss.

Italy stumbled over the line with draws, North Macedonia produced late blow

After winning Euro 2020, then-Italy boss Roberto Mancini fell into a trap that previous coaches Enzo Bearzot and Marcello Lippi had previously by remaining loyal to players that brought him success previously regardless of their form at the time of the tournament.

The Azzurri drew four times in their 2022 World Cup qualifiers after defeating England in the Euro 2020 final on penalties, allowing Switzerland to top their group, leading to a playoff with North Macedonia. A late goal from former Palermo winger Aleksandar Trajkovski was enough to eliminate the Italians.

Mancini had filed his resignation, but he was persuaded by FIGC president Gabriele Gravina to stay on. In the Finalissima, a one-off match against Copa America winners Argentina, Italy suffered another defeat, humiliated 3-0 by the Albiceleste. It was clear those Euro 2020 heroes were letting Mancini down.

Mancini tries new kids, then leaves for Saudi Arabia

Willy Gnonto. (@Azzurri_EN)

After the defeat to Argentina, Mancini started granting opportunities to players such as Wilfried Gnonto, Federico Gatti, Sandro Tonali, Davide Frattesi, Alessandro Bastoni, and Gianluca Scamacca.

Despite some positive signs, Italy lost 2-1 at home to England in a Euro 2024 qualifier, 5-2 to Germany in the Nations League group stage – the first time the Germans had defeated the Italians in a tournament – and they lost 2-1 to Spain in the semi-finals. Although Italy defeated The Netherlands 3-2 to finish third in the 2022/23 edition, celebrations were subdued.

Mancini then announced that he was going to coach Saudi Arabia, forcing the FIGC to seek a replacement. After winning a historic Serie A title with Napoli, Luciano Spalletti was appointed to replace Mancini as Azzurri coach.

Spalletti left to pick up the pieces, only to create further confusion

Italy Men’s National Team coach Luciano Spalletti sings the national anthem. (@Azzurri)

When Spalletti led Napoli to their first scudetto in over 30 years, the Partenopei were a well-balanced team that defended resolutely and with pace, intensity, and flair. Although Italy played some sublime football in the Euro 2020 qualifiers and for the majority of the tournament itself, the Azzurri were lacking in that fluidity and attacking swagger.

It was hoped that Spalletti could bring that spark back, but he has struggled to produce a stable starting line-up, and he has changed formations and tactics often. He started with the 4-3-3 formation, but a 3-1 defeat to England away and a scoreless draw against Ukraine in the Euro 2024 qualifiers prompts a rethink.

In friendlies against Ecuador and Venezuela early in 2024, he tested a back-three formation. He was convinced that it offered defensive protection, but he only used it once at the European Championship against Croatia. At the tournament, back-four formations saw Italy struggle to beat Albania, then suffer embarrassing defeats to Spain and Switzerland.

Where do Italy go from here?

Gravina has confirmed that Spalletti will stay on as coach, but changes must be made. The likes of Destiny Udogie and Nicolo Zaniolo were missing because of injury, and Sandro Tonali was suspended due to his part in the 2023 betting scandal. Players like them can offer something different to this Italy side.

New faces will have to be integrated quickly, and positive results will have to come fast. Otherwise, the Azzurri could face the unthinkable and miss the World Cup – albeit an expanded, 48-team tournament – for the third time in a row.