Three takeaways from North Macedonia 1-1 Italy: Spalletti’s Azzurri passive as poor pitch plays its part

Life under Luciano Spalletti didn't start perfectly for the Azzurri in Skopje. Despite looking to assert themselves and control possession, it's clear that the former Napoli boss has a lot of work to do with the national team.

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The Italy Men’s National Team drew 1-1 with North Macedonia in their 2024 European Championship qualifier at the Tose Proeski Arena in Skopje, result that should not please Luciano Spalletti on his debut as Azzurri coach.

Newly-appointed captain Ciro Immobile opened the scoring just two minutes into the second half, but Enis Bardhi stunned the Italians with a marvellous free-kick nine minutes from time and earned a much-deserved point against the reigning European champions.

Italy now have just four points along with North Macedonia albeit with a game in hand, and they host Ukraine, who are second with seven points in Group C, on Tuesday evening in Milan.

Spalletti’s Italy take the initiative, but…

It was clear that Spalletti wanted his team to take the initiative, and Italy looked dangerous in the opening minutes with Sandro Tonali hitting the post in the first half. Although the Azzurri finished the game with 72% possession, that dominance on the ball counted for little as North Macedonia finished with 10 shots to Italy‘s nine, and each side could only produce a goal.

Despite Italy’s attacking intensions, the players looked passive on the ball and frequently looked for the short pass when a more direct option or a shot might have been the better choice.

Spalletti is only one match into his international coaching career, but the draw places greater pressure on the Azzurri to get a win against Ukraine in the next qualifier.

Federico Dimarco for Italy. [@Azzurri_En]

Napoli midfielder Elmas troubled Italy

North Macedonia were set up to nullify Italy for as long as possible, and that plan had to be scrapped as soon as Immobile gave the Azzurri the lead early in the second half. This forced the North Macedonians to attack more, and Elif Elmas in particular, started to make an impact in key moments.

The Napoli midfielder was not afraid to take players on, drawing numerous fouls in the process, and one of them resulted in Bardhi equalising from a free-kick. Elmas might not have been as involved in the overall scheme of things like Bardhi or left-back Ezgjan Alioski, but he caused trouble in the most dangerous areas on the pitch.

Elmas was not a regular starter under Spalletti at Napoli and often came off the bench. Perhaps this is the midfielder’s way of showing the Italy coach that he missed out on seeing the best of his abilities.

Giovanni Di Lorenzo in action for Italy. [@Azzurri_En]

Pitch in Skopje troubled the Azzurri

Although Italy did what they could to play possession football, the approach did not always work for the Azzurri due to the quality of the pitch. There were several divots on the ground and it was clear that the grass needed to be resurfaced.

It was almost detrimental for North Macedonia goalkeeper Stole Dimitrievski, who rolled awkwardly on the ground when collecting the ball just before half-time. He was able to get back onto his feet, but he clearly did not look like he was in the best condition possible.

For a competitive international fixture, UEFA should demand more from their members in regards to pitch quality. Poor quality impacts on the quality of the football and can result in unnecessary injuries.

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