A hard-fought 0-0 draw with Ukraine saw the Italy Men’s National Team reach the 2024 European Championship on Monday night and they will have the opportunity to defend their crown at the tournament in Germany next summer.
With their opponents unable to play Euro 2024 qualifying fixtures in their homeland because of the ongoing conflict in the region, the Azzurri travelled to Bayer Leverkusen’s BayArena, but that did not lessen the vociferous support in the stadium for the hosts.
Luciano Spalletti’s team showed a desire to attack Ukraine from kick-off and had more possession and many of the better chances on the night, as their opponents looked to defend well and snatch a goal on the break. It was Italy who secured the point they needed to finish second in Group C behind England, who they beat to lift the trophy back in 2021.
Federico Chiesa helps carry Italy to Euro 2024
In his first Euro 2024 qualifying appearance for the Azzurri against North Macedonia, Federico Chiesa netted a brace and played a major role in the advantage they took to the BayArena. However, minutes into the match, it appeared the Juventus attacker was going to be the villain for Italy, as he missed an easy chance just yards from the Ukraine goal.
For the rest of the game, though, the 26-year-old looked like a man possessed as he surged forward past helpless Ukrainian players, but cut a frustrated figure when twice seeing his efforts go to waste before the break. First, Davide Frattesi shot straight at the goalkeeper after being found by a clever through-ball, and then, when teammates failed to anticipate a low cross across the penalty box.
It was much of the same during the second period, bursting into the box and winning one of many corner kicks and then sending a curling effort from the edge of the box just past the goalpost on 58 minutes. Unfortunately, rather than a much-deserved winning goal, Chiesa’s last act before being substituted 10 minutes from time, was getting hacked down by defender Yukhym Konoplya.
Azzurri defence held firm, but must improve before they head to Germany
There was an unexpected centre-back partnership of Francesco Acerbi and Alessandro Buongiorno, with the Torino defender winning just his second cap and looking nervous at the start of the match, receiving a foul within six minutes. Goalkeeper and captain Gianluigi Donnarumma was then forced into a vital save 10 minutes later, but the Italian rearguard saw out the rest of the half relatively untroubled.
However, midway through the second half, Azzurri fans had their hearts in their mouths when the Paris Saint-Germain shot-stopper hesitated on a long throw dropping from height in the box but saved himself by smothering the shot from Mykhailo Mudryk.
The closing minutes highlighted the shortcomings in the Azzurri defence that Spalletti will have to overcome if they have any chance of defending the trophy, though. First Buongiorno lunged into an onrushing Ukrainian player and substitute Bryan Cristante stepped into a challenge two minutes into injury time, which could have easily seen their opponents awarded a penalty with less timing. On another night, Ukraine would certainly have had a penalty with minutes to play.
Had they received and scored that penalty, Italy would have finished third and been forced into a two-legged play-off. Instead, Italy are assured of their place at Euro 2024.