Italy secure qualification into Euro 2024 knockout stages with Croatia draw but do little to convince

Italy edged through to the Last 16 of Euro 2024 with a late 1-1 draw against Croatia, but the Azzurri must improve drastically if they are to defend their title, having looked particularly blunt in attack.

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The Italy Men’s National Team will face Switzerland in the Last 16 of the 2024 European Championship after snatching a 1-1 draw at the death against Croatia in Group B.

Trailing to a second half Luka Modric goal, the Azzurri looked set for a nervous wait to see if they would be one of the four best third-placed finishers to progress beyond the Group Stage.

That was until Mattia Zaccagni stepped off the bench to curl in a fine leveller with almost the last kick of the game and guarantee second place in the group for Luciano Spalletti‘s men.

Italy Men’s National Team defender Alessandro Bastoni (@Azzurri)

Italy’s weaknesses increasingly apparent

Despite progressing from what appeared to have been Euro 2024‘s ‘Group of Death’, having faced Spain and Albania earlier in the tournament, Italy have done little to convince that they are amongst the favourites to defend their title.

Whilst they were the better team in the first half in Leipzig, the Azzurri were a shadow of the side that won Euro 2022 after the break and deservedly fell behind to Modric‘s goal, just moments after a stunning Gianluigi Donnarumma save denied the Real Madrid man from the penalty spot.

Zaccagni‘s impact was timely to say the least and takes away the pressure of a potential clash against Portugal in the next round, punishment for finishing third, but merely papers over the cracks in the squad.

Spalletti’s stubbornness

Luciano Spalletti takes training with the Italy Men’s National Team. (@Azzurri)

Indeed, Spalletti has already showcased the weaknesses that have blighted him throughout his career and his favouritism towards his ex-Napoli stalwart Giovanni Di Lorenzo, as well as the strange decision to replace the impressive Lorenzo Pellegrini with Davide Frattesi at half-time were costly.

Meanwhile, the lack of genuine attacking options are likely to hinder Italy further down the line, with neither Matteo Retegui nor Giacomo Raspadori able to make an impact up front, whilst Gianluca Scamacca looked laboured when introduced from the bench.

Positives to take into the knockout stages

Italy Men’s National Team midfielder Lorenzo Pellegrini delivers a corner (@Azzurri)

Whilst the performance left much to be desired, Italy looked somewhat like getting back to their old selves with a significant change in approach to the match.

Spalletti had drawn frustration in Italy’s opening two matches after deploying a 4-3-3 formation and the Euro 2020 winners struggled for control against Spain in particular.

However, the former AS Roma and Napoli coach reverted back a 3-5-2 and it allowed Di Lorenzo and Federico Dimarco to find space to push forward, whilst Alessandro Bastoni and Riccardo Calafiori marshalled the defence.

With four of the starting line-up coming from an Inter side that have dominated in Serie A using that formation, Italy looked more comfortable on and off the ball and in the first half enjoyed arguably their most controlled period of play since Spalletti took over.

It certainly looked to be an improvement in the first half, and had the coach not undone this with strange substitutions and a lack of attacking intent after the break, Italy could have gone on to secure victory.

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