DUSSELDORF: After 48 hours of embarrassment, anger and shock at how comprehensively the Italy Men’s National Team were outplayed by Spain in their second game at this 2024 European Championship, it’s time to look forward.

The group stage format always gives you a second chance, particularly the 24-team European Championship format where four of the six third-placed teams go through.

Avoiding defeat against Croatia in Leipzig on Monday will be enough to send Italy into the last 16 as group runners-up, while there is even a chance of still qualifying with defeat.

But that’s not really the point, is it? Thursday’s Gelsenkirchen gubbing underlined just how far this Azzurri side is from competing with the best, and the momentous amount of improvement required from them to even attempt a serious title defence.

Debate has been fierce about what needs to change, with goalkeeper and captain Gianluigi Donnarumma the only Italy player to perform admirably against Spain and therefore be considered a nailed-on starter.

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

Di Lorenzo to pay the price?

Let’s start with the defence. The young pairing of Riccardo Calafiori and Alessandro Bastoni have started both games so far after much chopping and changing between a back four and back three leading into the tournament, not to mention injuries to Francesco Acerbi and Giorgio Scalvini.

Neither centre-back was to blame for what happened against Spain, with Calafiori unfortunate for the own goal. But Gianluca Mancini‘s physicality and man-marking prowess earned him some calls for inclusion before the game and those have been renewed in some quarters in its aftermath. Alessandro Buongiorno, who started in the warm-up win over Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Federico Gatti are the other options.

Italy Men’s National Team’s Riccardo Calafiori on the ball. [@Azzurri_AR]

Federico Dimarco is unlikely to be sacrificed given his technical quality and attacking threat – even if he showed little of that against Spain – with the other wing-backs in the squad, Andrea Cambiaso and Raoul Bellanova, looking likelier to be impact subs.

Undoubtedly the player most likely to lose his spot is Giovanni Di Lorenzo, who was torn to pieces on a night of one-on-one torment and humiliation against Nico Williams.

It came after a difficult domestic season for the Napoli captain and he seems to have carried that lack of confidence into the Azzurri shirt. The steady hand and cool head of Matteo Darmian now looks more attractive than ever as an alternative right-back option.

Spalletti hints at midfield reshuffle

Gianluca Mancini and Jorginho in conversation in Italy Men’s National Team action. (@Azzurri)

Ahead of the Spain game, Spalletti called on his team to dictate possession, press aggressively and show they can dominate against a top-tier nation.

They failed miserably, claiming just 43% of the ball. Perhaps the biggest admission of that failure was the coach’s decision to replace both Jorginho and Davide Frattesi at half-time for Bryan Cristante and Andrea Cambiaso.

Jorginho is now considered in the Italian media as one of the leading candidates to lose his place, with the more physical presence of Cristante or another steady ball-player in Nicolo Fagioli the options to replace him.

Spalletti criticised his players for “running a lot but not running well” against Spain, so it will be interesting to see what changes he thinks can help seize more control against Croatia‘s legendary midfield trio of Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic, and offer more of an attacking threat.

Scamacca feeling the heat

Italy Men’s National Team’s Gianluca Scamacca against Spain at Euro 2024. [@Azzurri]

Italy failed to muster a single shot on target against Spain, having also been profligate in the opening win over Albania when they required 16 attempts to score two goals.

Gianluca Scamacca has come under fire after he failed to influence the game in Gelsenkirchen, and there have been plenty of suggestions that Mateo Retegui could be given a chance to take the no.9 shirt off his back against Croatia.

Retegui‘s brace against Venezuela in March, six games ago, was the last time a striker found the net for Italy, with Scamacca‘s record now standing at one goal in 18 caps.

That means that using one or the other – or even Giacomo Raspadori for that matter – is unlikely to be the extent of Spalletti‘s plan to get this team looking more dangerous in attack.

Will Federico Chiesa live to fight another day? He has unfortunately looked more like the Juventus version rather than the Euro 2020 version since the tournament started, but he does at least offer directness and pace that the rest of the team has lacked.

Federico Chiesa with the Italy Men’s National Team. (Azzurri_en)

Players who could inject a bit more of that include Cambiaso, who could feature as a winger, or Mattia Zaccagni, who drew a few fouls with his tricky dribbling after coming on against Spain.

The experienced Stephan El Shaarawy is also waiting in the wings for a chance, while let’s not forget about Italy‘s wildcard, attacking midfielder Michael Folorunsho, who showed the world his ability to hit long-range bangers during his debut Serie A season with Hellas Verona.

Italy do not have the strongest group of players at Euro 2024, far from it. But they didn’t three years ago either, and there the strength of the collective overcame the limitations of the individuals.

The challenge for Spalletti is to think on his feet and try to find the best combinations during the tournament after an unconvincing start. In that sense, it’s hard not to see Croatia as the make-or-break moment for the Azzurri in Germany.